Feb. focus in Burnaby school district on kindness, addressing bullying
Sharing a pencil with a classmate. Helping a younger child open a yogurt container. Volunteering to wash dishes at home. Buying a sandwich for a homeless man.
These are just a few examples of kind acts by students at Burnaby's Seaforth elementary so far in February as it marks Kindness Month.
The month of kindness initiatives was organized to lead up to Pink Shirt Day on Feb. 29, the annual anti-bullying day recalling an incident several years ago when two boys in Nova Scotia wore pink shirts in support of a classmate who was being teased for wearing the colour.
At Seaforth, students have been tie-dyeing their own pink shirts, they've been submitting artwork, poems, videos and other projects along the theme of kindness for a contest, and even teachers have been doing secret kind acts for colleagues.
Maryann Giardini, vice-chair of Seaforth's parent advisory council which has sponsored the student initiatives, said she was struck at how bullying is perceived by the children in their contest entries.
"They really see bullying as a physical act of beating somebody up, and the victim as weak," she said, suggesting next year they may address that by teaching the kids about verbal and Internet bullying.
What bullying is and isn't will be part of an information session being held for parents Feb. 29.
For the first time in Burnaby school district, this year an open letter is being sent to parents to explain bullying and the processes in place at the district to deal with it.
"We wanted to make sure parents are aware of the whole continuum," said Sue Dorey, the district's manager of youth services. The letter was sent home to tie in to the larger pink shirt-anti-bullying campaign.
Dorey will be speaking on what bullying is, noting there's a difference between the "developmental acts" that younger kids do such as name calling, pushing and incidents on the playground that are mean but not necessarily bullying.
"There's a fine line between bullying and a kid who's just trying to figure it all out."
Inappropriate behaviour is still dealt with as teaching opportunities, as are conflicts between two children that are more of an "equal fight."
But to be considered bullying, it must have three elements: a pattern of repeated aggressive behaviour, negative intent and a power imbalance between children, due to age, size, social status or cognitive ability, for instance.
The power imbalance, as well as the stigma of being a "tattletale," is often the reason why bullied children don't report it to school officials. "Often we find out after multiple incidents and we often find out from parents," Dorey said.
By then, parents will have noticed a change in behaviour, or the child has become withdrawn, depressed or reluctant to go to school.
The information session will let parents know what they should do, a Burnaby RCMP officer will discuss kindness, safety and the role of police and a district counsellor will talk about how children can be supported.
Dorey noted that often bullies are victims of bullying themselves elsewhere, and it helps to understand the dynamics at play.
At Seaforth, principal Wendell Hiltz has already seen the impact of its kindness campaign.
"I have noticed students attempting to solve problems on their own in peaceful, respectful ways," Hiltz said.
"We wanted to focus on the more positive message of being kind for more than just one day."
Giardini said the school has really embraced the campaign. She added with a laugh, "My son, today on our way home from school, said something nice to his sister and usually that doesn't happen that often."
• A free information session for parents on keeping your kids safe from bullying, harassment and intimidation will be held Wednesday, Feb. 29 at 7 p.m. at Burnaby Central secondary, 6011 Deer Lake Parkway. Seating is limited. Please RSVP to 604-664-8338.