Students at Harry Camsell School took part in a swearing-in ceremony on Jan. 25, as they were introduced to the WITS (Walk away, Ignore, Talk it out, Seek help) program. The half-hour assembly, which parents and teachers also attended, was designed to explain the program that helps prevent peer victimization, both at school and elsewhere in the community.
Students from Kindergarten to Grade 3 listened attentively as principal Chris Philpotts read ‘The Walrus’ Gift’, a story about a young walrus that helps a boy who is teased and left out at school.
After the story, Hay River Fire Chief Ross Potter, with the help of mascot Sparky, asked the children to stand at attention and recite an important oath. This was the final step in deputizing them as WITS special constables.
“I promise to use my WITS, to walk away, ignore, talk it out and seek help when I’m dealing with teasing and bullying,” they said. “I promise to also help other kids use WITS to keep my school and my community a safe and fun place to be and learn.”
Potter said it’s important for emergency services to show support towards the program.
“We don’t want to see kids treat each other badly,” he said.
Philpotts said it’s important to implement these principles early in life, so that students can grow up with these values.
“We’ll make sure parents remind their children about using their WITS, both at school and in the community,” he said.
WITS has two components: a primary program for students up to Grade 3, and the LEADS program – Look up and listen, Explore points of view, Act, Did it work, and Seek help – for students in Grades 4-6. That program is soon to be implemented at Princess Alexandra School.
Originally developed by a British Columbia school principal in 1993, WITS was further developed in 1997 when school police liaison Tom Woods created the Rock Solid Foundation to provide violence prevention programs for young students. They began using WITS as part of their efforts and have been evaluating it ever since.
Heather Coakwell, whose daughter Keira attends Harry Camsell School, said it’s important for young students to know that they aren’t alone, and that they can speak to someone if they’re being bullied.
“I appreciate the fact that they encourage kids to speak out when they see bullying taking place,” she said. “It’s important for kids in this age group to know that it’s wrong and hurtful to bully. Soon, they will be using social networking sites and texting, where it’s easier to bully.”
South Slave Divisional Education Council (SSDEC) superintendent Curtis Brown said the WITS program is important because it fits into one of three priorities set by the council.
“The SSDEC and its schools are focusing on literacy, numeracy and social responsibility,” he said. “Programs like WITS are an outgrowth of this goal of helping to develop social responsibility among our students.”
— Myles Dolphin