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Social Planning's school anti-bullying program success with kids and adults

BY TAMARA BELKOV Miss Young's class is literally hopping. The happy frog music comes on and the boys and girls all jump to their feet to bounce to the techno beat.


Miss Young's class is literally hopping. The happy frog music comes on and the boys and girls all jump to their feet to bounce to the techno beat. The school day was done, and Young, a Grade 5/6 teacher at Cyril Varney Public School, had promised students a bit of musical mayhem as a reward for their respectful behaviour during a visit from two special guests.

The 24 students had welcomed Lise Denis from the Social Planning Council and Keith Brewster into their classroom and into their world.

Denis co-ordinates the social inclusion program, and Brewster is a youth co-ordinator with the City of Greater Sudbury. The duo facilitated a recent workshop on how to stop bullying through social inclusion.

The social inclusion program is designed to actively bring the children of Greater Sudbury into the civic planning process. It started four years ago and allows those who make the policies a chance to hear what their youngest constituents have to say.

"It works," Denis proclaims. "We look at it from the positive not the negative. We talk about what it means to belong, to be included in the community (and) not about discrimination or excluding people."

Denis says local youth offer plenty of ideas on how to make their classroom, school, neighbourhood, community and city a more welcoming and tolerant place to live.

"Who here is a girl? Stand up! A boy? The oldest in your family? Who loves math? Who speaks French? Likes hockey? Was born in Sudbury?" Denis asks as the children pop up and down from their chairs.

Besides keeping them hopping, the exercise actively demonstrates to the students that they are all individuals within many different smaller and larger groups.

As Brewster steps forward, Denis turns her attention to a large paper banner marker in hand.

Brewster asks, "What does it mean to belong? How does it feel to be excluded?"

As the hands go up and the voices begin to call out, Denis transfers their feelings in to brightly coloured words on the banner.

"Sports is a good way to include everyone," declares young Devin Nadon. "Have everyone all playing together like a soccer day."

Drew Maki doesn't appear keen to play with the boys that bully him at school and remarks, "I'm sick of tolerating them. They stalk me. I've had it with them."

Kelsi Uy offers, "Maybe the bully isn't doing too well in school. Maybe there should be an after-school program like a tutor so they can catch up and feel better about themselves."

"Having a caring teacher makes you feel like you belong," Roger Frappier says as he beams a smile in the teacher's direction.

Nodding Camren Gagnon adds, "They understand the way you are. They don't make fun of you."

The banner quickly fills with multi-coloured ideas on what to do when confronted by a bully such as walk away, tell an adult and to always play in a group.

Brewster asks, "What would you do if you were the principal?"

Student Megan Holmes, impressed with what she's heard, enthused, "Do this same thing in front of the whole school."

Facilitators like Denis go into local classrooms to instruct and poll the students' views on the social barriers they are confronted with, such as living in a low-income neighbourhood, having a disability, facing racism and dealing with bullies. The information is later shared with the whole school, community and the Social Planning Council.


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