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White Rock students take pledge to tackle bullying

White Rock Elementary students practise their salute, shortly before being sworn in as special constables, officially
White Rock Elementary students practise their salute, shortly before being sworn in as special constables, officially 'armed' to help deal with bullying.
— image credit: Tracy Holmes photo

Bullies beware: there’s a new brand of law enforcement in town – and they’ve got their WITS about them.

More than 100 White Rock Elementary students were sworn in as special constables in the fight against bullying last month, following a presentation aimed at giving kids the tools to deal with and put a stop to the problem.

Standing at attention before Const. Janelle Shoihet – feet together, shoulders back, chest out and chin up – the kindergarten to Grade 3 children repeated the pledge in unison:

“I promise to use my WITS, to walk away, ignore, talk it out and seek help when I’m dealing with teasing and bullying. I promise to also help other kids use their WITS to keep my school and my community a safe and fun place to be and learn.”

The WITS program grew from an effort that began in 1993 at an Esquimalt elementary school, where students were taught the four conflict-resolution strategies now represented by the acronym.

It quickly caught on, and the program evolved to include approaches that can be taught to older students.

Shoihet has been teaching it at White Rock Elementary for three years, and said it “absolutely” makes a difference when the message is getting delivered to kids at a young age.

On return visits, she challenges students to tell her when they’ve used their WITS. Sometimes they’ll share an experience where they wish they had used them, she said.

The primary program includes the reading of a story about a walrus who helps a little boy deal with teasing at school. It ends with students being taught a “secret handshake” and presented special-constable badges.

The latter quickly found their way onto the shirts of the White Rock Elementary students, who eagerly patted the stickers firmly into place and gleefully practised their new handshake.

Shoihet emphasized to the students that the distinction is a big deal.

“Not every school has WITS,” she said.

The comment prompted a suggestion from one student for the officer to “go to every school and tell everybody.”

The enthusiasm only strengthened her belief that the program’s message is getting through.

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