Tag Archives: Woodstock Middle School

My Big Fat Life: Bullying Canada Needs to Practice What it Preaches

Published in the Fredericton Daily Gleaner, Monday, May 7, 2012

Bullying Canada needs to live up to its mandate in how it deals with organizations and institutions.

Bullying is indeed a serious matter, yes; we need more education and awareness. I am in no way trying to belittle the cause, but I am somewhat ashamed of the tactics Bullying Canada chooses to employ in furthering its cause.

I know about bullying intimately.  My son was bullied over a six-month period in Grade 7. The situation was solved, but it was a long process.  Repairing relationships doesn’t happen overnight. Repairing a school’s reputation doesn’t happen instantly, either. For the last three years, principal Pat Thorne, vice-principal Jen Pauley and their team of teachers and support staff at Woodstock Middle School have worked diligently in trying to turn the school around.

When I moved to the community of Woodstock in 2006, the school’s track record for dealing with bullies wasn’t the greatest. Over time that changed because of strong and loving leadership, a staff that understands the needs of the students, and a group of educators and support staff who work well as a team for the betterment of all students.  Does that mean bullying doesn’t happen at the school?  Of course not.  Bullying happens everywhere, and I am not sure there will ever be a time when it is eradicated completely.

Bullying comes from socio-economic differences, from a lack of empathy and understanding, from greed and pride and sometimes from a lack of education. Bullying also comes from being bullied. It is a multi-faceted problem that cannot be fixed with a phone call, a suspension or even the threat of media.

I know. It took months for my son to admit the seriousness of his own situation. It took days for the team at the school to talk to each of the students involved and to grasp a complete understanding of what was happening, and it took weeks to set up mediation meetings and begin to rectify the problem.

When it comes to dealing with bullies and those who have been bullied, quick fixes don’t work. Suspensions are temporary Band-Aids, moving kids to other classes’ only mask the situation. Bullying is further exacerbated by the fact that every situation is different and every person dealing with that situation is different.  No bullying incident is exactly the same as another, which means every solution ends up being unique.

And sometimes an issue can’t be resolved to the satisfaction of everyone involved. People are complex beings.

We live in an age where instant gratification is the name of the game. We want things and we want them now.  Bullying is no different. We all want it fixed and fixed yesterday, but as long as the bullying is taking place between human beings, that will never happen.  While many of us would love to snap our fingers and instantly deal successfully with a tough situation, myself included, that will never happen.  Bullying Canada doesn’t seem to understand this.

Last week the organization took a media swipe at the staff at Woodstock Middle School. They were trying to intervene on behalf of a parent.  Bullying Canada issued a news release stating: “We attempted to make contact with both Superintendent John Tingley and School Principal Patricia Thorne but our calls and emails were not returned.”

As a person concerned with bullying in the school system, I was shocked to read this and contacted Pat Thorne and John Tingley directly.  They said they checked with their staff and were told no phone messages were received from Bullying Canada, and at no time did either official receive a voicemail message from the organization.  They did, however, receive one email.

On Friday, April 27 at 8:22 a.m., Bullying Canada sent a note to both Tingley and Thorne. This was the only contact made, according to Tingley and Thorne. Later that morning, at 11:44 a.m., Bullying Canada issued a news release to the media complaining of inaction by the school and the district.  In a later media interview, Bullying Canada spokesperson Rob Frenette expressed his concern that the school was not returning his ‘calls’ and that he was also upset officials would not discuss the situation with him.

How fair is it to widely distribute a media release stating that numerous calls were made when no messages were left?  How irresponsible is it to issue a news release accusing someone of not returning calls after waiting only three hours for a response?  And how can an anti-bullying group expect such a multi-faceted situation to be fixed within a week?

On the day Bullying Canada issued its news release, the school had been dealing with and working toward resolving the issue for five days. My son’s complex situation took nearly six weeks to rectify.

This is not the first time the actions of Bullying Canada officials have worried me. I’ve watched the news reports where they complain about businesses, corporations and schools.  In some instances it seems that if the organization cannot get what it wants, it then threatens media action. It also seems that each time a call is not returned in what the organization feels is a ‘timely fashion,’ Bullying Canada issues a media release.

Rob Frenette issued another news release Saturday, saying it was the family’s decision to issue a media advisory on the fact their concerns were not being addressed. “At no time did anyone from Bullying Canada make the decision to issue the media release,” Frenette stated.

Yet that media advisory was issued under the name of Bullying Canada. How can the organization claim to represent and speak for a family in one breath, but then abdicate responsibility in the next?

Everyone who reads my column knows I am not a malicious person.  My family and friends and co-workers know I am as honest as the day is long. People understand my need to help others, that I truly hate bullying, that I love people who do what’s right and not what’s easy, and that I try to see the best in everyone.

I hope you see this column for what it is: Clarification, education and standing up for what I think is right. Organizations that take the moral high ground in their mandate need to take the moral high ground in the execution of that mandate. Bullying Canada needs to take that message to heart in how it deals with this sensitive issue.

Theresa Blackburn is a wife, mother and a New Brunswick Community College instructor who lives and writes in Woodstock.  You can email her at theresa@mybigfatlife.ca, join her Facebook group, My Big Fat Life, or follow her on Twitter @MY_BIG_FAT_LIFE.


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MY BIG FAT LIFE: Bullying 101: A local school’s bullying policy should be used province-wide

Published on Monday, June 13, 2011 in the Fredericton Daily Gleaner


When my son first told us he was being bullied, he had already endured nearly five months of torture.

The bullying began the second week of school, he said.

How did he remember when exactly? It was the week of his 12th birthday.

There were six people involved in the taunting and torture of my sweet boy.

Two students were considered the main people, or the ring leaders; the other four were ones who seemed to just join in when things were happening.

When he finally confessed his hurt, he told us about being pushed and tripped and even punched once. He recounted incidents where scribblers were ripped, paint was ‘spilled’ on him, and where people ‘accidentally’ wrote on the back of his shirts or jackets.

He told us that the physical incidents weren’t as bad as the psychological ones – comments about him being stupid because he didn’t excel like some in his class, always staying after school for extra help. There were whispered comments – words like ‘retarded,’ ‘stupid’ and ‘fat ass’ tossed like knives and leaving permanent scars.

Much of this took place in the hallways of the school, at the backs of crowded classrooms, and in the busy and noisy gymnasium.

Teachers noticed some things and students were talked to, but most of the incidents went on ‘under the radar’ – students making sure they weren’t caught in the act.

These students were just 12 and 13 years old, still young and naïve, still trying to find their way. Sadly some of the ‘strategies’ they created in ‘finding their way’ hurt a person I love most in the world.

Many mornings James would complain about pains in his belly and asked to stay home; other days there would be fights about clothing – blurting out more than once that people made fun of his pants.

On those days I would rationalize things and say, “No teenager likes school,” or “We’ll get you new pants this weekend.” Or, when clothes were ruined or scribblers ripped in two, “Why can’t you take better care of your belongings?”

After we knew the details, I remember saying out loud to my husband, “What kind of mother am I?”

James’ being bullied made me question my parenting skills.

My sweet boy James, pictured here with his father and cousin. It was cousin Kaitlan's First Communion.

Why didn’t I see the signs?

Why didn’t I ask more questions?

How did I not know?

Why was my son afraid to tell me?

I believe some of James’ hesitation to come forward was based on who was doing the taunting. Two of the students were girls – one of those girls was a ‘ring leader.’

Imagine being afraid to face your day because six people in a place where you spend the majority of your time are making your life miserable?

I cry at the thought of what my son endured, but I know others have endured more and worse and have not been able to get the help or the resolution they needed.

This is where James’ story gets better.

The horrible memories surrounding that time are also mixed with memories of happiness and pride and gratefulness.

I cannot say enough about the quick actions of Woodstock Middle School leadership – principal Pat Thorne and her vice-principal, Jennifer Pauley.

Within 24 hours of knowing the situation, Pat and Jennifer met with us.

In those same 24 hours, they quickly set up individual meetings with the students – each confessing to the incidents James recounted.

All parents were called, and asked to take part in meetings. To everyone’s credit, all agreed.

But my son had a big decision to make.

James had to determine if he could face the classmates who made him hate school – kids who were cruel and mean to him for five straight months.

If he didn’t want to take part in these meetings, he didn’t have to, and the school would have tried another route to deal with the issue.

My son showed a great amount of courage in saying yes. I don’t think I was ever prouder of my boy.

While each family was brought in for one meeting, we participated in six.

Our meetings consisted of the bully, their parents, my son, my husband and myself, principal Pat, vice-principal Jennifer and the guidance counsellor, Trevor Foesenek.

Every meeting started the same way: James would recount what he went through and I would quietly cry beside him.

I thought that after hearing him describe the incidents the first time, I’d be OK after that – but I was wrong.

Hearing him talk about his pain, hearing him choke up as he recounted specific incidents and how they made him feel – about himself, about his school – made me physically hurt.

His account of the bullying was always followed by how it impacted his schoolwork and his home life. His story was always followed by our story – how we, the people who loved him most in this world, felt about what had happened and how the bullying impacted our lives.

Then the bully was asked why. Many times they couldn’t answer that question – struggling to open up, struggling to come to terms with the reasoning behind their actions – because in many instances, there are no reasons.

James and his friend Lydia goofing around at his 10th birthday party. James is now 13 years old.

Some kids do this because they too have difficulties, they too have low self-esteem, and this is a coping mechanism – it helps some feel better, trying to increase their worth by cutting down another’s.

Other students bully because they have been bullied. Some kids bully because they see bullying in their own home – parents who do the same kinds of things in the adult world. Sadly, kids mimic their parents. For some, it was all about joining in to ‘fit in.’ Some just didn’t think before saying or doing, thinking that what was going on was ‘fun’ and wanting to take part in that ‘fun.’

So many of our young people look at others but don’t really ‘see’ them. They don’t understand that the people they are taunting are a part of something bigger – a loved member of a family, a son or daughter, a sibling, an important part of our community, a valued member of a group. They see a ‘classmate’ and don’t see the person – they particularly don’t see themselves reflected in that person.

After the student talked, their parents would talk. Some spoke of the horror they felt at discovering someone was hurt by their child; others talked of their sadness – how the incident made them relive memories from their youth – how they were bullied.

Many talked of recent discussions with their child, trying to make them understand, using this as a teaching tool. Many mothers, like me, cried. Some of the students involved cried, too. They had no idea how much pain they caused by a few choice words and a few displaced pushes.

But now they do.

After the discussions, students were asked to come up with solutions.

How can we stop this from happening in the future? What will you do if this takes place again? If you see others doing this to James or someone else, what will you do?

I don’t hate the children who hurt my son – I never did. Having three distinct children of my own, I know that the majority of kids aren’t ‘bad’ – they’ve just made bad choices.

We were lucky. After all of this work, only one incident took place. A couple of weeks after our meetings, one of the girls involved ran past my son in gym class and used the ‘knife’ – calling him ‘fat ass.’ The other girl involved ran after her.

“Do you really want to go through all of this again? Do you? Go say you’re sorry … ”

And she did.

I believe the bullying my son endured stopped because of Pat Thorne and Jennifer Pauley.

In fact, I know it did.

These women know kids aren’t perfect. Middle school children are at a precarious time in their lives and life isn’t easy for some of them.

They don’t try to change things by ‘telling’ students what to do, but are able to enact change by ‘doing’ – by providing the opportunity for students’ self realization – allowing them to figure out what has happened and why and providing them with the resources to make amends and the tools to ensure they can prevent it from happening again.

The students involved could have been suspended, but what would that have solved?

Taking part in these meetings was time-consuming and logistically challenging, but was a unique and important learning opportunity for all involved.

I feel good when I send my son to school each morning.

I trust the teaching staff, and in particular the leadership at the school. They have more than demonstrated to my family that they will do what is required to make WMS a safe and productive place for all the students who go there.

A safe place for students: Woodstock Middle School, Woodstock, NB

Does this mean James will never be bullied again? Not by a long shot. He’s dealing with an issue this year with a different child, and that too is being dealt with.

But what all of this does mean is that when incidents come up, parents feel confident that the issue is dealt with quickly, honestly, and productively.

I asked my son if I he was OK with me recounting his bullying here. I wanted to share what happened to him in the hopes that his story could help others.

He was quick to agree.

I don’t necessarily want people to share what happened to my boy as much as I want them to share how Pat and Jenn dealt with the problem. I believe their approach should be the standard in all schools. To me, reconciliation is a practice that needs to happen more often.

The Woodstock Middle School reaction to the problem, and more importantly Pat and Jenn’s actions to try and solve it, enabled my son to feel happy and safe in his school.

That in turn has facilitated better grades and improved self-esteem. I also think this approach has helped the other parents involved talk more openly with their children and helped some of the ‘bullies’ to break away from that mould.

Of course this approach will not solve all incidents of bullying.

Bullying is a complex problem that has many mitigating factors. Not all bullying can be solved by a set of meetings – but some can.

And we have to start somewhere.

I am sending my column and a letter to our education minister here in New Brunswick. I want him to make the Woodstock Middle School model for dealing with bullies a ‘best practice’ used in all schools.

With the recent death of my friends’ granddaughter, I believe we owe our children that much.

Marissa took her life at the age of 19. She was bullied throughout her school years – starting in Grade 5. Her family says her battle with depression throughout most of that young life was the direct result of the bullying she endured. I never met Marissa but her death haunts me. I think of my own son when I think of her, and feel an overwhelming need to do all I can to prevent another young person from taking their life.

I’m still shouting from the rooftop.

Are you?

Theresa Blackburn is a wife, mother and New Brunswick Community College instructor who lives and writes in Woodstock. You can email her at theresa@mybigfatlife.ca, or join her group, Big Fat Life, on Facebook.  You can also follow her in Twitter @MY_BIG_FAT_LIFE


Filed under *My Big Fat Life Column