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  Angel Paws stamp out bullying in Courtice

As recently as September 2002, things were desperate at Courtice Secondary School. Every day, one young woman would come to school early and leave late so she could hide from the students who were tormenting her. No one knew the extent to which she was being bullied, until her mother went to the school seeking assistance.

Now, a year and a half later, dozens of Angel Paws mentors actively patrol the halls of Courtice Secondary, coming to the aid of students who are being bullied.

Beverly Suddard is a guidance counsellor and student council teacher at the Durham Region school. It is under her guidance that students initiated the anti-bullying program.

“When the parent came in and told us her daughter was being bullied, the (student council) class was outraged,” says Beverly. “They wanted to protect her. They started Angel Paws.”

The role of Angel Paws mentors is not to confront the bully, says Beverly. “They don’t acknowledge them in any way. They help the victim. If they hear of something happening (while they are on patrol), they’ll go to the victim and walk them away, while someone else gets a teacher or someone in administration to handle the bully.”

Beverly is thrilled with the success of the program to date. There are 54 students actively involved in the program who are making their school a safer, more enjoyable place, she says.

“Today, they were talking about how much safer the halls are, how much more confident they feel walking into the school,” she says. “And the number of fights in the halls has decreased enormously.” And, according to Beverly, because the students are taking bullying more seriously, teachers are taking it more seriously as well.

The success of the Angel Paws program is not confined to the boundaries of Courtice Secondary School. Another aspect of the program is to reach out to other schools.

Angel Paws mentors visit Courtice Secondary’s six elementary feeder schools to conduct workshops and inform Grade 7 and 8 students about the program. The result, according to Suddard, is more confident and involved Grade 9 students.

“Some of the younger students are refusing to be victims and are signing up as Angel Paws.” They are building strong networks of friends while helping to improve the environment in their school, she says.

Another outreach initiative was to make a presentation at the recent daylong, Leaders of Today (Equity in Schools: It looks different) event held in Peterborough. Three Angel Paws mentors, Kim Johnston, Alli Hyde and Amanda Graham, told more than 100 secondary school student leaders about their anti-bullying program, encouraging them to adopt a similar program in their schools.

“As student leaders,” they stated during their PowerPoint presentation, “If we’re not part of the solution, then we’re part of the problem.”

Angel Paws has launched a new website at www.courticeangelpaws.com.

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