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Pink Shirt Day: A time for Aspen View students to learn about bullying

National day one tool in the box educators can use to promote student wellness

ATHABASCA – The last Wednesday of every month is Pink Shirt Day here in Canada — back in 2007, two students in Nova Scotia decided to stand up for a younger student who had been bullied for wearing a pink shirt, and the movement took off from there.

“It’s our stand against bullying, we get to join forces with everybody across Alberta and Canada,” said Candy Nikipelo, board chair for Aspen View Public Schools (AVPS). “Wellness is, of course, one of our key priorities, so (the schools) put emphasis on building those healthy relationships.”

When AVPS students, teachers, and administrators wear pink that day, they’re helping to continue a legacy that got its start 4,700 kilometres away.

David Shepard and Travis Price were in Grade 12 when a younger student was called a homosexual and threatened with violence for wearing a pink polo shirt to school, and it didn’t sit well with them.

The pair bought dozens of pink tank tops to hand out to their peers to show support for the kid who had been bullied, and it caught on. What started at one school has spread across the country, leading to a surge in anti-bullying activities across all grades.

“Bullying or other poor relationships can happen in any school, and that’s across time. There’s always a certain element of that,” said Nikipelo. “I think the educators or the people in charge are more aware of it now and they’re trying to address it and teach everyone to be kind. The whole ‘Be Kind to Everyone’ campaign and slogan is alive and well, and they’re trying to incorporate that into everyday classroom learning.”

Part of a larger conversation

Pink Shirt Day is going to look different across the school division; Nikipelo pointed out that what works with a Grade 1 class at Smith School or Whispering Hills Primary School isn’t likely to work with a Grade 12 class at Edwin Parr or Boyle School. One thing that is consistent is AVPS’s larger conversation around student wellness, which includes mental health.

“Whatever they chose to do, we know that everything they do is to promote a safe learning environment and to prevent bullying,” said Nikipelo. “We’ve made wellness a priority, it wasn’t always the word we used when I became a trustee. Once we made it a priority, it trickles down to administration, which trickles down to the teachers, and that’s when it gets incorporated into everyday learning.”

During their Feb. 22 board meeting, AVPS trustees received their annual student services report, which included results from a mental health survey conducted in the fall.

“Wellness can be mental, it can be physical it can be social, when we talk about wellness, we’re trying to hit every angle of wellness within a person,” said Nikipelo. “I would say Pink Shirt Day, number one, it’s raising awareness within the kids on it being national. They’re very astute on things like that.”

Aspen View’s survey was split between Grades 4-6, and Grades 7-12, as well as staff and parents. Of the 216 Grade 4-6 students who responded, 93 per cent rated their overall well-being as being average or above. Out of the 310 Grade 7-12 students who responded, only 79 per cent rated their well-being as average or better. While Nikipelo did say she felt older students were less likely to respond seriously, that didn’t mean the results were useless.

“Kids start out their school career pretty innocent and naïve and just loving everybody,” said Nikipelo. “As you get older, relationships become more difficult, and that’s true for all of us.”

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