bullying will be top of the agenda for hundreds of Derry school pupils during the coming week as they mark Anti-Bullying Week, which runs from November 19 - 23. One of the schools shouting loudest about what’s become a huge social issue is Oakgrove Integrated College.
This week,pupils at the Waterside school will take part in a number of initiatives and workshops to tackle bullying and the issues that arise from it, head on.
Oakgrove vice-principal John Harkin says the school is proud to be associated with the current campaign but believes it should never be far from the top of the social agenda at any other point during the year.
“Here at Oakgrove we take anti-bullying week very seriously. It’s the one week where we can officially mark the issue of bullying but it’s paramount that we’re constantly vigilant, and that’s something we try to make sure of here in the school. The integrated nature of Oakgrove means that we celebrate difference and people have a duty and a challenge to report any kind of bullying or negative behaviour.
“We have a number of days during the year where we celebrate our differences, including Martin Luther King day, Community Relations Day and Peace One Day. We believe it’s vital to keep that momentum throughout the year.”
As well as constantly reinforcing the anti-bullying message, John says Oakgrove employs a progressive attitude when it comes to dealing with issues of negative behaviour.
“International experts are now moving away from the idea of bullying that says we have a few bad people and everybody else is good. Here at the school we believe the most effective voice is when young people get together. Bullying goes on in all walks of life where there are groups of people but what we need to do is empower our young people to stand up and bring the issue into the open.”
John says students at the school are all aware that bullying is not just an argument about good versus evil.
“Some of the workshops we do around bullying pushes our young people beyond what adults would be comfortable doing. We explore the fact that we all have a dark side to us and our students will stand up and talk about things they’ve said in the past which they didn’t realise at the time might have had a negative impact. A lot of the young people actually find that process quite liberating.”
John said although forms of bullying have changed with the development of modern technology, the core message is still the same.
“Young people say things on social networking sites that they wouldn’t say to someone’s face and it’s getting people to be aware of the fact that even if bullying isn’t the old fashioned stealing of lunch,it has the same effect on the human being if it comes in the form of words on a screen.”
The banner phrase for the week is ‘Everybody is Somebody’. There can be homophobic, disablist, sectarian or racist bullying. Ultimately, if a person is perceived as being different to their peers, this can on occasion lead to an individual experiencing bullying.
Anti-Bullying Week is co-ordinated by the Northern Ireland Anti-Bullying Forum (NIABF) and supported by Translink.
Lee Kane, NIABF’s Regional Anti-Bullying Co-ordinator, explains the opportunity that Anti-Bullying Week provides for teachers, youth workers and parents to talk to young people about respecting difference and to challenge bullying:
“The interest from schools, youth groups and parents in this year’s Anti-Bullying Week shows how important the issue of bullying is in our society and reaffirms our commitment to educate young people about diversity.
“By challenging negative stereotypes and reinforcing anti-bullying messages we can all emphasise that such behaviour is unacceptable. Children and young people’s participation is critical to implementing effective anti-bullying strategies.
“Poster displays, themed assemblies presentations, lesson activities and whole school exercises are some of the activities taking place. It’s about engaging pupils in understanding what their roles and responsibilities are in tackling bullying,” he adds.