Schools in Port Coquitlam will be among the first to take part in a campaign to make sure middle and high school students know they can get help if they are feeling bullied, alone or afraid.
School District 43 is partnering with the PoCo-based I Am Someone Ending Bullying Society (IAS) to provide information in schools about services available to teens via anonymous text — a method that might appeal to youth who don’t feel comfortable talking to counsellors, parents or other adults.
“This is another tool in our tool box,” said Jeff Stromgren, SD43's community connections/healthy living co-ordinator, who said the district’s goal is to reach youth who are struggling and provide help.
Stromgren said IAS posters are being affixed to floors, bathroom stalls and mirrors at Riverside and Terry Fox secondary schools, and Minnekhada middle, as well as put up in counsellors’ offices, to let kids know they can text 211 seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. to get anonymous professional support through the United Way-funded bc211.
“They have... an understanding of what’s happening to them, so we’ve got the best shot to make sure kids can use tech safely to talk about some of things that are getting them down or not making them feel good,” Stromgren said.
IAS' executive director, Andrea Howorth, said the materials have been developed thanks to support from Telus and grants from the Port Coquitlam Community Foundation as well as fundraisers, including the IAS Online Auction and the Innovative Fitness Adventure Challenge.
In addition, two years ago, IAS received $14,000 from proceeds from Pink Shirt Day, a corporate program that continues today to raise awareness about bullying and how to stop it.
“We’re just reaching out to the schools," said Howorth. "It’s about building a relationship and having a conversation with kids about bullying."
Part of the campaign is to start the discussion about what bullying is because it’s not always clear. IAS has a website (www.bullyingornot.ca) that describes bullying and recommends youth text 211 for help.
As well, she hopes teachers can use the message highlighted in the posters — "Just Joking" and "She Pushed me out of our Friendship Group" as talking points for sparking conversation about bullying. The goal is to get the posters into all SD43 middle and high schools, and reach 11,000 public school children, according to IAS.
It’s also important for the district to measure the success of the campaign to find out if it’s working, and if students are getting the help they need. Stromgren said that’s the next challenge and he hopes to find partners who will help with the research.
In the meantime, he hopes text 211 and the ongoing marketing campaign supported by IAS will provide struggling students with some support.
“If they do that and they get in contact with somebody and they open up, then that’s what we need — we needs kids to open up,” Stromgren said.