Maple Ridge school district working to combat bullying

Working on application so victims can give anonymous tips

The Maple Ridge Pitt Meadows School District is reaching out to students who may be victims of bullying, asking them to speak up so they can get the help they need.

“We can only help when we know, and lots of time we don’t know,” said school district superintendent Jan Unwin. “We encourage kids all the time to come to us anytime they have an issue.”

Last week, former Maple Ridge and Westview secondary student Amanda Todd took her own life after being bullied.

To help make it easier for students to report incidents of bullying, the district is working on a smartphone app that will enable kids to remain anonymous while reporting incidents.

“We take this very seriously and work really hard to make sure that both students and staff have a safe place to learn and work,” said Unwin. “Student safety is a top priority, so any report of alleged bullying is always taken very seriously.”

When a case of bullying comes to a school’s attention, district staff work with parents of both children, bring in counselling where necessary, and set up a safe space for the victim should the incident ever repeat itself, said school district spokesperson Irena Pochop.

“This might mean making arrangements for the child to immediately go to the principal, to a school counsellor or to a specific room in the school,” she said. “Where necessary, we would also bring in community support.”

Every school in the district has supports in place for students who are bullied, Pochop added.

“On the proactive end, we have codes of conduct and [a number of] programs and forums,” she said. “On the reactive end, we have counselling support and significant and appropriate consequences. In all cases we also work closely with families to address the broader social issues.”

One of the most effective ways to combat bullying is to teach social responsibility, said Pochop.

“We now have positive behaviour support at the elementary level, the focus of which is to teach kids to be socially appropriate and to problem solve,” she said.

Programs like Breaking Down the Walls aim to build school culture, which helps reduce the isolation felt by some students.

The district also hosts forums such as Parenting in the Cyber Age, which address current challenges such as sexting or cyberbullying.

Alanna Dunlop was a speaker at last year’s forum, hosted at Maple Ridge secondary, and the main speaker was Merlyn Horton of Safe Online Outreach Society.

To help combat cyberbullying, the district rolled out the Passport to the Internet program last year. The online Internet literacy resource is aimed at kids in Grades 4 to 8, and designed to encourage safe online behaviour.

Students are also required to adhere to the district’s Acceptable Use Agreement, which includes appropriate online conduct for the use of district issued devices and the district online network.

The Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Board of Education began developing a more comprehensive policy on safe schools last year, which has gone to the committee for feedback and will be back before trustees in the coming months.