Students at Andrew Mynarski VC Junior High School received a clear message about bullying last week: Don’t be a bystander.
The school hosted a special Respect In School program event Nov. 20. Respect In School is an online-based program which trains teachers to manage issues such as bullying, harassment and neglect prevention.
The Nov. 20 event was attended by provincial Education Minister Nancy Allan and Manitoba-born former NHLer Sheldon Kennedy.
Kennedy, who was raised in Virden, Man., had previously only spoken to students in his hometown.
Kennedy, who played with the Winnipeg Jets, Detroit Red Wings, Calgary Flames and Boston Bruins during his NHL career, was also one of the players to come forward as a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of former coach Graham James. Kennedy has since written his autobiography which speaks to those events, entitled Why I Didn’t Say Anything— the Sheldon Kennedy Story.
Kennedy spoke about the importance of teachers knowing how to properly deal with issues like bullying, stating that adults often have a less thorough understanding of what bullying is than kids do.
"You as kids were probably more educated at one point than we were as adults," he told the students.
He emphasized that adults take kids’ problems seriously and have a desire to create a safe environment for youth.
Following his address, students had an opportunity to ask Kennedy questions. A number of them asked him about his decision to come forward about the abuse he suffered during his hockey career.
"I couldn’t stand watching him with kids anymore," Kennedy said of his decision to speak out.
He also gave some blunt answers about the issues he had following the abuse, noting he was jailed both as a juvenile and an adult on several occasions.
"I was into drugs and alcohol trying to numb the pain," he said, adding that what happened to him forever impacted his hockey career.
"I hated hockey from the first time it started happening to me," he said.
Allan urged the students to come forward if they are being bullied, or if they see it happening to someone else.
"You have individuals (here) who have taken this training, who you can trust. Don’t be a bystander," she said.
After the discussion, a group of students and teachers, as well as Kennedy and Allan, played a game of floor hockey.
As players tried to dig the puck out from between his feet, principal Doug Taylor said he was quite impressed with the presentation.
"The more honestly we can talk about this issue, I think that has a greater impact. Students don’t suffer fools easily, they know when people have gone through it, and that’s what they’re identifying with Sheldon," he said.
The school has a sizeable student council, about 65 students, and its anti-bullying initiatives took off following the council’s attendance at We Day earlier this year.
"What we’re really interested in is implementing something in our school through our student council about anti-bullying," Taylor said.