The witnesses

Empowering the witnesses of bullying

By: Annalee Grant
Reporter, Cranbrook Daily Townsman

At Selkirk Secondary School, students are not just content to watch their peers
being bullied or mistreated.

By doing that, counsellor Jeff Pew says they have created a cultural shift that is seeing
innocent bystanders becoming involved to make bullying unacceptable in the halls of the
school.

“If the bullies get the support of the bystanders, it encourages their behaviours,” Pew
says. “I think kids are comfortable reporting it more, and talking about it, and they do see
the value of kids being treated fairly.”

Pew, along with Principal Clint Dolgopol, say the staff have worked hard to create that
shift where bystanders no longer act as passive participants. They now speak up when
they see a fellow student being bullied or harassed, and they even come forward when
they aren’t sure if the situation was bullying.

“I think we’re seeing more bystanders come forward,” Dolgopol said.

For Dolgopol, what has been important is developing that culture within the school, and
giving students a comfortable environment and trusted adults to go to when needed.
When an issue is identified, often the staff will gather the entire grade together to talk
about what’s going on. He focuses on social responsibility and has noticed that students
who work hard in class apply that work ethic to be the best they can in life.

The Social Justice Club has recently grown into a class that will be offered every two
years. Those students act as leaders to their peers and talk about bullying and harassment.
Student council have been heavily involved, and new Grade 7 students from McKim
Middle School get a thorough introduction to the school even before they make their trek
up to high school in Grade 8.

“A lot of the Grade 8s come into the school intimidated about being in the same building
as the Grade 12s,” Pew said. Often that feeling goes away once they get into the school.

Pew says that about 10 years ago, parents and students began coming forward about
physical areas of the school that students didn’t feel comfortable in. The administration
responded by conducting a school-wide survey that addressed those concerns, and
identified the areas and situations. Since then, Pew has seen a big change and students
feel much safer in the school.

“The cultural shift is more along the lines of, some things aren’t okay anymore,” he said.

Both Pew and Dolgopol say it’s unlikely bullying will ever stop completely, but they’re
happy to see the lines of communications between students and staff open up.

“It seems to be at times part of the fabric of growing up,” Pew said.

Dolgopol agrees, and thinks there is still more that could be done.

“I often say that we can only deal with what we know about. I don’t think it’s ever going
to be perfect,” he said. “I think there is room to improve, and for it to be brought forward
more.”

Staff have changed their attitudes towards what’s harmless teasing, and what needs to be
addressed.

“The incidents that 20 years ago we saw as playful teasing, we take more seriously now,”
Pew said. “It is definitely not tolerated.”

By educating its students, Selkirk has become a safer environment that does not accept
harassment or bullying. There isn’t much of it happening in the halls these days, and
when it does it is often isolated, and a zero tolerance policy is strictly imposed. Pew notes
that physical violence is rarely seen anymore.

Selkirk addresses cyber bullying before it happens by educating students on safe internet
techniques, and responsible social network usage. Dolgopol said incidents of cyber
bullying are few and far between, but they do occasionally happen.

“It’s very easy to say things on a computer as opposed to in person,” he said.

Pew often does assertiveness training with the victims of bullying to learn how to stand
up for themselves and deal with future situations. He then does conflict mediation with
the bully and victim when it is appropriate to do so.

“My approach is always to try to empower both sides,” he said.

As principal, Dolgopol sees bullying situations land in his office, and mediation is key so
that both students stop the cycle of bullying.

“We do mediate conflict, especially in situations where it’s not one way, because often
there’s a back and forth,” he said.

Pew travels the province to discuss mediation, and he has heard some horror stories
about bullying situations. That experience has taught him how unique and lucky Selkirk
students are.

“Sometimes hearing the stories of other schools and what goes on, I always think, ‘Wow,
we are lucky here that we don’t have those more serious threats in school.’”

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