Staff and volunteers at schools across Alberta will be getting an education on how to prevent bullying, harassment and discrimination.
On Monday, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange announced $300,000 per year in provincial funding to support the Respect in School program, so employees can learn about their responsibilities to ensure students are safe from abuse.
LaGrange said the provincewide program was the first of its kind in Alberta to help adults recognize signs of bullying.
“The psychological damage, sometimes from these significant events that happen in their lives, are life-altering. So anything that we can do to make that a better situation, or prevent something from happening at an early stage, we have to do it,” said LaGrange, after she announced the program at Eastview Middle School in Red Deer.
Online training, offered in English and French, will educate teachers and other school staff, bus drivers, parent volunteers and student leaders.
Red Deer Public Schools, Foothills School Division and Canadian Rockies Public Schools already offer the program after purchasing it on their own.
Stu Henry, Red Deer Public Schools superintendent, said last year, every single staff member, from teachers to bus drivers, took the training. Any staff new to the district will take it, and now the district won’t have to spend money to renew the program.
He said it’s too early to see a change among students, but staff are more comfortable addressing bullying.
“All of a sudden, we have staff who are confident in talking about this. It’s given them vocabulary and skills to address these tough conversations when they come up,” Henry said.
Respect Group Inc. has certified more than 1.2 million people across Canada to recognize and prevent bullying, harassment and discrimination.
Respect co-founder Sheldon Kennedy said research shows people don’t have a lot of confidence to deal with issues such as bullying.
“At the end of the day, we’re trying to close gaps. We’re trying to create confidence for community conversation around issues that carry a lot of fear, and at times fall through the cracks, and have a lot of grey areas,” said Kennedy, a former NHL player and abuse survivor.
“The best defence, we know when it comes to these issues, is empower the bystander. Knowledge is our best defence.”
Albertans dealing with bullying or other issues that may be affecting their mental health can access supports 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at the Mental Health Helpline (toll-free at 1-877-303-2642), the Bullying Helpline (toll-free at 1-888-456-2323), Bullying Helpline Chat, and Kids Help Phone (1-800-668-6868).