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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 13, Number 3, Nov./Dec. 2000

Silence is acceptance:
Killarney rejects bully behaviour

by Nancy Knickerbocker

When Killarney Secondary School’s bully-prevention team met over lunch-hour one Friday in September, a Grade 8 girl, sat quietly as the other students and the teachers chatted and munched their salads and sandwiches. Math teacher Roma Lake explained that the new student didn’t have her lunch because she was afraid of the girls who were hanging around near her locker. She decided to stay out of their way, even though it meant going hungry.

“That makes me so sad–to hear that someone would have to go without lunch because of bullying,” said another girl, whose eyes welled up in sympathy. Vice-principal Judith Pilley took her gently by the arm and set off in search of lunch.

Students, staff, and administrators at Killarney have been working together since 1994 to reduce bullying in the hallways and classrooms of the large, diverse, East-Vancouver school. PE teacher Vickey Lal, one of the key organizers, did her master’s degree on the work they launched together.

“We have a real passion for this work,” Lal said. “We want to do more.”

The team, composed of an equal number of students and teachers, began by developing a code of conduct that aims to build a healthy, respectful climate based on clear expectations for positive behaviour. The code has been incorporated into the school culture, and it is printed in the students’ agenda books, explained Melissa O’Donnell, who co-chairs the bully-prevention team with Lal.

Students also developed skits about bullying, which they presented at the elementary schools in the Killarney community. Through drama, they explored bullying and ways to reduce it.

To counter the notion that reporting bullying is the same as “ratting,” the team adopted the slogan “Silence is acceptance.” They held a poster contest, and many beautiful projects emerged from the art room to illustrate the new concept.

The teachers also developed lesson plans to integrate with the English and social studies curriculums. This year, they will be focussing on resources for Grade 9, because research indicates that bullying is most problematic in that year, O’Donnell said. As another aspect of the work, teacher Tom Ross has raised awareness around violence against women through the White Ribbon campaign commemorating the Montreal massacre.

Killarney’s administrators have supported the team’s work through the years. In addition, they have studied and implemented restorative justice as a means of growing, and learning from conflict. Students, teachers, parents, and principals confront bullying and reconcile differences through dialogue or mediation.

In an interview, Grade 11 student Chloe Ash-Anderson echoed that holistic approach. “We can’t just deal with the victims; we have to work with the bullies too,” she said. “People who bully feel bad about themselves, and so they have to put others down. I feel sorry for the bullies too. A lot of them come from unhappy homes, and they don’t have great lives.”

To get a comprehensive picture of the issue, last year the team developed a survey on bullying and asked all 2,000 students to complete it. The main forms of bullying were verbal, teasing, and rumours.

Perhaps most worrisome is that young people are reluctant to report being bullied to staff and to their parents.

“Even when teachers directly ask, students may not tell us what’s going on,” O’Donnell said, adding that they’re beginning discussions on peer counselling and other ideas for mutual support among youth.

The team’s latest task was to present the survey results at the school professional development day. They invited Dr. Shelley Hymel, associate dean of graduate programs and research in education at UBC, to discuss the latest research and analyze the survey results. She told Killarney staff that their findings are consistent with other schools in the Lower Mainland and, indeed, all of B.C.

Dr. Hymel’s talk was followed by a colourful display by Lal and the other teachers, and then by heartfelt, thoughtful speeches by students.

Faiza Mohammed, Grade 12, is prime minister of the student council at Killarney. She spoke of how popular, successful youth often are confronted by bullies with a civilized veneer. “My bullies didn’t have fists; they had smiles on their faces,” she said, but the wounds hurt just the same.

Guppy Sandar, also a Grade 12 student, said teachers notice overt physical bullying, but they don’t see the more subtle forms. “There’s so much more that you are missing,” he said. “And often it’s more serious than it looks.”

Grade 11 student Rani Padhy spoke of how bullying interferes with learning. “We come here to learn, and, man, we love this school!” she told the teachers on their Pro-D day.

“We appreciate all the hard work you put in, and we know you do get stressed out sometimes, but students get stressed out too,” Rani said. “We want to learn, and we look up to you because knowledge is a gift.”

Nancy Knickerbocker is the BCTF’s media relations officer.

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