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New Westminster school district looks at ways to end bullying

Even before the suspected suicide of Amanda Todd, a Port Coquitlam teen relentlessly tormented at school, students at New Westminster Secondary School had started writing an anti-bullying play they perform each year.

Even before the suspected suicide of Amanda Todd, a Port Coquitlam teen relentlessly tormented at school, students at New Westminster Secondary School had started writing an anti-bullying play they perform each year.

Students at the high school write and star in a performance for Rock Solid, a program that aims to raise awareness of the problems around bullying and help students deal with it. The play tackles touchy topics around bullying, including racism, sexism and the responsibility that bystanders have to interject when they see someone being bullied.

The Rock Solid program was launched at the high school in 2003 - a combined effort between police and the school. The idea launched after the tragic death of another teenage girl - Reena Virk, who was senselessly tormented and murdered by her teenage classmates.

"Every kid that starts in Rock Solid is told the history of it," said drama teacher Colin Mackay.

This year's Rock Solid production likely wouldn't be about Amanda, Mackay said. It is "too emotional" and raw to focus on yet, he said.

Amanda documented her story in a YouTube video about a month before she committed suicide. In the video she holds up cards that tell the story of her years of being preyed on.

Asked whether New Westminster's high school is doing enough to educate and support students in regards to bullying, Mackay said, "We certainly try. I don't know how you can ever do enough."

The Rock Solid production is performed for elementary, middle and high school students in the district. Rock Solid is one of a number of anti-bullying initiatives the district currently offers.

The high school has other anti-bullying plans in place for fall - also planned before the Amanda Todd tragedy. There is an anti-bullying seminar on Oct. 23 for grades 8, 9 and 10 students with Jesse Miller, a speaker on bullying and anti-bully measures for schools, Janet Grant, the district's director of instruction and student services, told The Record.

The district has also tackled the topic in the Parents' Night Out series over the past few years. The series is a collaboration between schools, the New Westminster Police Department, the New Westminster Teachers' Union, Fraserside Community Services and the United Way of the Lower Mainland.

The next session is Wednesday, Oct. 17 at 7 p.m. at Lord Kelvin elementary (free child-minding provided). It's called Understanding Bullying from a Youth Perspective, and high school students will be the presenters.

"Anti-bullying is always kind of on our radar, and so we're always looking for ways to bring that message to our students," Grant said.

While the district is looking for ways to address bullying, the issue of suicide isn't as readily talked about.

"We tend to deal more with the bullying - suicide is a difficult one because it's more case-by-case," Grant said.

As for parents, Grant said when they learn their child is being bullied they need to take it seriously.

"And, depending on where the context is, they need to consult with the appropriate people - the principal, school staff. Maybe even if it's cyber issues, the police, whatever it takes," she said. "This is why I think it's so important that we do have these parent sessions. They help raise awareness for parents - what to look for and what to do."

The Ministry of Education is also putting a push on its erase bullying strategy, Grant said.

"School staff are going to be trained on even more ways we can bring this message into our schools and our classrooms," she said.

The district has a number of high school students trained in the Red Cross (funded by the United Way) Respect Ed program. These same high school students deliver the anti-bullying message to students in the district's elementary and middle schools, Grant said.

Ashley Currie, a community school coordinator, brought the Respect Ed program into the district last spring.

"In the pilot year, over 300 students received the workshop," Grant wrote. "We are training more students this year and will be spreading the anti-bullying message to even more students across our district."

The Respect Ed is the same format as the Rock Solid program in that it is students bringing the message to students.

New Westminster youth were also featured in the Red Cross's website.

This new website is also a valuable resource, Grant said.

The district doesn't track the number of "bully" reports, but individual schools do, Grant said.