Garden City Collegiate has had a good deal of experience in creating an inclusive environment, which made it the perfect launchpad for a new provincial initiative.
The school hosted Education Minister Nancy Allan on Dec. 4. Allen announced the province will be introducing an anti-bullying action plan for Manitoban schools. The announcement was attended by students from Garden City and Maples collegiates as well as H.C. Avery Middle School.
Officials from Seven Oaks School Division, the Manitoba Teachers Society and other invited groups were also in attendance.
"Every student in Manitoba deserves to feel safe and feel respected in school," Allan said.
"Students, educators, school staff and parents work hard every day to ensure our schools are safe and caring places."
She said Manitoba has been a leader among provinces in that regard, citing its Safe Schools charter and its "reporting bullying" legislation as examples.
Garden City Collegiate has taken its own measures to promote an inclusive environment and take stances against bullying, such as its three-year-old gay-straight alliance group.
"We have a very strong advocacy program here at Garden City," principal Steve Medwick said during the announcement.
Kirsten Dozenko, one of the advisors for the group, also addressed the gathered students, teachers and administrators.
Dozenko said "hundreds" of the school division’s staff have received "ally" training from the Rainbow Resource Centre, and that all three Seven Oaks high schools now have gay-straight alliances.
"We continue to work at the divisional and school levels to ensure the needs of these students are met," she said.
"These actions, this policy, and these steps forward help everyone learn and grow in a safe and equitable space. This is about all of us."
The province’s strategy will focus on providing assistance to teachers through expanded training supports and workshops, and helping parents with new online resources and information, so they might better recognize bullying in order to report it.
Garden City Collegiate gay-straight alliance member Cassandra Julyan spoke at the announcement. She said the power of groups like Garden City’s should not be underestimated in its ability to help LBGTQ (lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender, questioning) students.
"Imagine you are a student who has been marginalized and made to feel wrong or small by your peers," Julyan said.
"Now imagine a space within your school where your voice, a voice that has been suppressed and quieted by fear is encouraged and supported... At Garden City, we don’t have to imagine."
Dozenko suggested other teachers shouldn’t be afraid to put their faith in the community when they are about to offer programs of their own.
"There’s a lot more support from the community than you might think," she said.
Julyan expressed support for the new provincial strategy, and called on fellow students to embrace a spirit of inclusion as they undertake their own initiatives.
"Just be inclusive and open-minded. If you’re part of a (gay-straight alliance), that generally means you’re already open," she said.
"But also, always be open to open discussion and critical examination of your own group."
Over the coming months, Allan will tour the province to visit with students, parents and school staff to discuss further bullying prevention measures.