School District 27 trustees are embarking on two new initiatives to help make schools, and by extension, communities in the Cariboo-Chilcotin, safer and more rewarding places for children and youth.
At their regular board meeting Thursday the trustees agreed to participate in the new Communities That Care project, and to spend $1,500 to set up a special website for students called PSSTWorld as a pilot project.
Superintendent Diane Wright said the PSSTWorld site was first established by the Surrey school district a year and a half ago and is working well to connect students and help to address problem issues such as bullying, drug abuse, and gangs.
The web site was established in Surrey schools by Theresa Campbell in cooperation with the RCMP. Campbell is a recognized national and international expert on school safety.
The PSSTWorld site provides reliable information on important issues that affect students and a place for students to share their experiences and connect with each other in a safe environment.
Students can submit articles to the site on topics such as sports, fashion, creativity, etc.
The site is monitored and any articles posted that involve harassment, cyberbullying and taunting are filtered and/or reported to law enforcement authorities.
One unique feature of PSSTWorld is called Report It, a secure and confidential area for students to share information about anything that concerns them at school.
Report It is a safe and anonymous way for students to report bullying, threats of violence and vandalism. Students do not provide their names unless they wish to be contacted.
The trustees agreed to take part in the Communities That Care project after listening to a presentation by the City’s social development manager Anne Burrill and probation officer Brad McCrae.
Communities That Care is a community-driven pilot project funded by the Ministry of Children and Families, that is being initiated in Williams Lake and Anahim Lake to help vulnerable youth have a support system and network of resources necessary for a healthy lifestyle. The Planning Council of Williams Lake and area is spearheading the project in coordination with the City of Williams Lake.
One of the initial phases of the Communities That Care program is to conduct a survey among Grade 6 to Grade 12 students to measure the incidence and prevalence of substance use, delinquency and related problem behaviors and the risk and protective factors that predict those problems in a community.
In endorsing the school district’s participation in Communities That Care trustee Bruce Mack said the school district is uniquely positioned to participate in the program by assisting in delivering the survey to students. He and other trustees also agreed that participating in Communities That Care could assist the school district in planning programs and dealing with issues such as gangs, drugs and crime.
Burrill explained that she grew up in Anahim Lake and Williams Lake and has been working in the social work field for 15 years.
She said Communities That Care is not a silver bullet cure, but a system for bringing communities together to address problems.
She says research shows that success in dealing with problems such as crime, gang violence, and drug abuse is highest when all sectors of a community work together to address the problems. Communities can’t simply expect social services, schools or the RCMP to be successful in addressing the problems on their own.
McCrae added: “Research shows that programs fall flat if they are not embraced by the community.”
The Communities that Care Prevention Strategies Guide lists 56 tested and effective prevention programs and policies that are shown to increase protective factors, reduce risk factors and reduce adolescent problem behaviours in well controlled studies.
“It’s a model, but it’s not a straight jacket,” Burrill said, noting that each community needs to decide on what existing programs may be worth enhancing and which new programs may be worth initiating.
As a probation officer, McCrae said he has arranged for many young people to participate in very good treatment and life-skills programs, but if supports are not there in the community for them when they return it is easy for young people to fall back into their old lifestyle.
Burrill pointed out that a risk factor could be something as simple as a child seeing their parents drink a beer at a soccer game and getting the idea that it is OK to do so even though the action may be illegal.
Burrill said Squamish has been using the Communities That Care program for 10 years and saw a decrease in risk factors in the very first year it was initiated.