Police and school safety experts have been called into Princeton Secondary School following a disturbing spike in incidents of bullying.
“It’s a pattern behaviour of name calling, pushing and shoving in the hallways, taking possessions and hiding them – little things to try to disempower somebody that through the pattern becomes a big deal,” said principal Patrick Kaiser.
“There were elements of cyberbullying, slash conflict, as well.”
The problems are occurring mostly with grade nine students, and have been brewing for several months.
“We probably got a sense in mid to late October that this was unusual and we started implementing things right then. We increased our school awareness, increased our presence in the hallway and adjusted classes for our grades eight and nine…to try to minimize the power of some of these individuals.”
There have been minor injuries reported related to physical conflicts, he said.
“There are a number of things that we have gone through – parent conversations, student conversations; lots and lots of student conversations.”
In February – and following the dictates of the school’s bullying policy – the RCMP were called in to help address the situation.
Constable Ryan Henley told The Spotlight there was no official complaint about any incident.
“Multiple kids came forward and expressed [about] some bullying types of behaviour,” he said.
Henley gave presentations about bullying to small groups.
“I felt that they went pretty good. I was a school liaison in one of my previous jobs so I have some experience…It was an opportunity for discussion and information.”
He declined to specify details of the incidents that were shared.
“The last thing I want to do is to single out a child or make it clear what parties are involved.”
When asked how the recent incidents compare to other complaints of bullying he has dealt with, Kaiser said “this year has certainly been an anomaly…We struggle to come up with reasons for what is going on because if I could put my finger on it I think I would be able to stop it.”
He has noticed an evolution in how bullies operate.
“Rarely do you see the typical bully [saying] ‘Gimme your lunch money.’ It’s way more psychological and social.”
Anti-bullying campaigns may actually play a role in the current situation, he added.
“With social media now and the growing awareness and all of that, [it] has partially educated our bullies on how to be creative.”
In February, nine PSS staff members attended a professional development session on bullying, and came away with new techniques for teachers to head off bullying in the classroom, said Kaiser.
Those ideas – including getting bullies to work constructively with other students to foster empathy and responsibility – are already being implemented.
Last week the school hosted a social media session to educate parents and a group from Safe Teen, which runs an international violence prevention strategy, will visit the school in April to speak to kids.
Kaiser said while students have been disciplined for bullying incidents “that is just a small piece of what is going to result in change. We have to hold students accountable through consequence but we also have to work with them through conversation to help them understand the significance of what they have done. Without that change won’t happen.”
In some cases the school has employed restorative justice methods to bring bullies and victims together.
“That has been used on occasion [after] determining with the victim as to where they are at. I don’t want to put the victim in a situation where they are going to feel powerless again…in a number of cases I wouldn’t put the victim in that situation with that person yet.”
Kaiser said it is also important to not stigmatize a child who has bullied.
“I don’t believe the kids who are doing this are bad kids,” he said. “I don’t believe we have any bad kids here at PSS, just kids who make mistakes.”
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