Students and teachers from area school districts are in the pink this month as they put on their pink shirts. The pink shirts are part of a national anti-bullying campaign but local teachers say the event is much stronger than that as they use it as a teaching tool to promote greater understanding about how and why kids are picked on.
“We really take the time to name bullying for what it is and what behaviour it is. Students can have a bad day but that’s not bullying. The Pink Shirt Day provides an opportunity to have constructive conversation about bullying,” said Charlene Kushniruk, principal at Albert Lacombe School.
Albert Lacombe School has classes for youngsters kindergarten age to Grade 6 and has taken part in the Pink Shirt Day campaign for at least six or seven years, Kushniruk said. Although Pink Shirt Day is officially February 28 her school traditionally holds it a bit earlier in the month.
Albert Lacombe students were provided with pink shirts a few years ago. They were paid for by the school’s Parent Advisory Committee. Some students still have those shirts and save them for the day. Others wear their own shirts if they choose and teachers generally purchase their own pink shirts, Kushniruk said.
“It’s a way to teach kindness and compassion,” Kushniruk said, as she explained that at Albert Lacombe School bullying awareness instruction is ongoing. The pink shirts make it easier for everyone to talk about it.
“We try to take a positive stance saying, ‘This is what you can do if you are bullied, or if you witness bullying’,” she said.
Students and staff at Keenooshayo Elementary School also take part in the Pink Shirt Day campaign.
“We encourage the kids and staff members to wear a pink shirt to show we are standing up to bullying,” said Keenooshayo Elementary principal Michael Erickson.
Erickson stressed that anti-bullying discussions begin in September at the school but the collective display on Pink Shirt Day makes it a prominent discussion point.
“I don’t believe a one-day activity makes that much difference but we have a zero tolerance policy for bullying. The Pink Shirt Day makes the kids see they do have to take responsibility and it lets them know they have permission to talk about it. The Pink Shirt awareness reminds them they have permission to get help and that they can talk to adults about bullying,” Erickson said.
The special day also brings to the fore discussions about kindness and good citizenship. And if kids choose not to wear a pink shirt, that’s okay too, Erickson said.
“It’s their choice. To me the day is about celebrating how we are all the same but unique too. We don’t all have to be the same. We teach the kids we can be different too,” he said.
Older students at the junior-high level are taught how to address conflict issues and even to analyze themselves whether problems with others are truly bullying issues. At this critical age, when students are on the cusp of adulthood, there are apt to be power and balance struggles and the Pink Shirt Day provides yet another opportunity for students and teachers to talk things through.
“We use the Pink Shirt Day as a leverage tool as a great way to talk to kids about what issues they are having. Is it stress, is it anxiety, is it conflict, is it bullying? During that day we have discussions about how to support each other,” said Lorne Akins principal Graham Jackson.
Jackson steers away from the artificial idea that students or staff must “be good” just for that one Pink Shirt day.
“Any day could be Pink Shirt Day, but on that day everyone is on board. It brings it to a conscious level. It’s a reason to nudge the thought process and it’s visually a way of being together against bullying,” Jackson said.