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Weyburn fights back against bullies

Organizations, schools and youth are asking the community to "think pink" next week.
(L-R) Weyburn Junior High School students James Giroux, Sarah Barrett, Mackenzie Oberg and Cole Bourassa gave a presentation to students at Assiniboia Park Elementary School on April 4 about "Pink Shirt Day," which will take place in Weyburn on April 13. The students and Motivational Activities Leadership Team (MALT) members also gave presentations at Haig and their own school, wearing pink "Bully Free Me" t-shirts.

Organizations, schools and youth are asking the community to "think pink" next week. The groups are fighting back against bullying with several events and fundraisers planned for Anti-bullying Week - April 11 to 15, including a walk in support of "Pink Shirt Day." Local students are well informed about the issue of bullying, since a presentation on the topic was circulated to all schools in the city throughout the week.

Bullying has become an increasing problem over the past decade due to the popularity of social media, such as cell phones, texting, Facebook, Twitter and Internet chat rooms. Which is why the Weyburn Police Service, Sun Country Health Region Child and Youth Services, South East Cornerstone and Holy Family Roman Catholic school divisions came together to create a presentation on cyber-bullying, emphasizing the morale: "think before you post."

"It's easier to cyber-bully because you don't have to say it to their face," Sharon Mulhall of Child and Youth Services told a group of students during one presentation.

The presentation was delivered to schools and targeted students in Grades 4 to 6, 8 and 10. The groups have decided that this presentation will be a yearly event, which is why some grades were skipped.

The cyber-bullying presentation provided the groups with feedback by allowing students to anonymously answer questions regarding their Internet usage and bullying experience.

"In Grades 4 and 5, students are just getting online," said one of the presenters, Caroline Gillies, instructional technology consultant for South East Cornerstone School Division. "But by Grade 8 nearly all had Facebook accounts."

The presentation taught students four basic rules about posting things online: the front page test asked students to consider the impact of their online messages or texts being printed on the front page of a local newspaper; the grandma test asked students to imagine that their grandparents could read everything they posted; "think before you post" and the "golden rule" were also emphasized.

The presentation also taught students about Internet safety, such as not supplying personal information or photos.

"Don't talk to strangers," Gillies told students. "Anyone can be anyone on the Internet."

Constable Melinda Mintenko of the Weyburn Police Service told students that if they are being harassed by anyone, in person or online, they should contact police.

"We have a bylaw against bullying," said Mintenko. "If you are getting serious threats, report it to the police."

Mintenko said that bullying has become a serious problem these days because it does not just affect victims at school or the workplace anymore. "Cyber-bullying hits you in your home."

Local students and youth groups are planning to participate in National "Pink Shirt Day," an initiative of the Canadian Red Cross RespectED program, which provides bullying prevention services. The walk is taking place on April 13, beginning at the Court House at 11 a.m. and proceeding down Third Street.

"I'd like to see our community support our young people by wearing pink that day," said George Barker, community outreach coordinator for Southern Saskatchewan Red Cross.

Barker spoke about bullying at the International Women's Day Fair held last month. He encouraged everyone to by pink paper "t-shirts" at CIBC, which support the RespectED program.

Schools are also fundraising for RespectED by putting on a variety of events during Anti-bullying Week. Weyburn Junior High School student James Giroux said that his school is planning to sell pink ice cream, cookies, bracelets and painted nails to raise money for the program.

James was one of four students that travelled to elementary schools to explain the significance of "Pink Shirt Day."

"A boy moved to a new school in Nova Scotia and wore a pink shirt on the first day and was bullied," explained James. "Two Grade 12 boys bought 50 pink shirts and handed them out and messaged friends on Facebook and got the entire school to wear pink the next day to support the kid."

Students from the Weyburn Comprehensive School also travelled to elementary schools throughout the week to explain "Pink Shirt Day" to younger students.

"Bullying is not just a young person problem, it's not just a school problem, it extends to all ages, even in the workplace," said Mintenko.

The groups involved in "Pink Shirt Day" are hoping that the entire community will participate in the walk or decorate their homes and offices with pink in support of Anti-bullying Week.

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