In late November 2011, 15-year-old Marjorie Raymond took her own life. Her death shook Quebec, awakening Quebecers to the pervasiveness of bullying in the province’s schools.
A high school student in the tiny northern Quebec town of Sainte-Anne-des-Monts, Raymond was bullied verbally and physically throughout her two and a half years at Gabriel-Le Courtois School. One month before her death, she was reported as having been physically bullied at school by one of her close friends, an incident from which she allegedly never recovered. In the note she wrote before taking her own life, she blamed “jealous people who want only to ruin others’ happiness.” It seems clear that bullying and violence were elements that factored into Marjorie Raymond’s tragic decision.
Two months after Raymond’s death, Bill 56, “An Act to Prevent and Stop Bullying and Violence in Schools,” was introduced at the National Assembly of the Parliament of Quebec by Minister of Education Line Beauchamp. This bill, which was passed on June 15, 2012, requires that “every [Quebec] public and private educational institution… adopt and implement an anti-bullying and anti-violence plan” that includes preventative and disciplinary measures to end “all forms of bullying and violence.”
Sabrina Nicholson, a third-year Kindergarten and Elementary Education student at McGill, clarifies what Bill 56 means for Montreal elementary schools, based on her three-month field experience at Willington Elementary in the fall of: “The administration…must ensure that their staff is informed about this bill, and then they have to encourage their staff – the teachers – to do something about it.”
In addition to teachers, other school staff members can be involved in putting Bill 56 into action. Frank Lofeodo is a spiritual community animator at four English Montreal School Board schools. He works with both elementary and high school students to help prevent negative situations from arising in the school environment and has experience implementing a variety of programs to deal with the issues of bullying and violence in response to the passage of Bill 56. At the secondary level, he explains, “we approach the bullying problem through the students.” In other words, their input is used to determine how instances of bullying can be dealt with. Based on student input, John F. Kennedy High School has implemented a program in which students can anonymously bring cases of bullying and repeated perpetrators to the attention of the school’s staff and administrators. Students repeatedly acting in inappropriate ways are paired with volunteer staff members who act as positive behaviour mentors, offering constant support to the students throughout the year. Lofeodo explains that this strategy “[deals] with the behaviour in a positive way, and [encourages] that person to be a productive, positive member of the school community.”
In addition, several other initiatives are being taken at the secondary level, including pep rallies centered on the issue of bullying, motivational speakers, and Physical Education uniform t-shirts carrying anti-bullying slogans. “It’s an all-encompassing thing we’re trying to do,” says Lofeodo, “to keep [the issue of bullying] in front of their awareness through the year, and to deal with the specific problems when need be…and to get kids involved in a positive way.”
At the elementary level, a number of programs have been implemented at the schools with which Lofeodo is involved, including Peace by P.E.A.C.E, Don’t Laugh at Me, and The Power of One. Peace by P.E.A.C.E is a nine-week conflict resolution program taught by McGill student volunteers, which emphasizes concepts such as anti-bullying, inner power, tolerance, and communication through interactive games, skits, and discussions. The goal of the program is to give children the tools to resolve conflicts in a positive manner. Lofeodo believes that the skills taught in the Peace by P.E.A.C.E program can constitute bullying-prevention tools for elementary school students. He comments that “[the program’s] activities deal with relationships between people, and if you can foster positive relationships…you then diminish bullying.”
Student-run organizations like Peace by P.E.A.C.E testify to the involvement of the McGill community in anti-bullying and anti-violence efforts in Montreal. McGill students can continue contributing to these efforts in the Montreal community by getting involved with such organizations, or by otherwise supporting them. Peace by P.E.A.C.E recruits volunteers each fall semester and hosts several fundraising events to help support their initiatives, like the upcoming annual benefit show taking place at Casa del Popolo on January 18. Why not lend a hand so that the world of tomorrow can be a better, safer, happier place for everyone?
Julia Devorak is the Fundraising Director of Peace by P.E.A.C.E Montreal. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.