The Waterloo Catholic board’s THINK campaign aims to curtail cyber-bullying. Photo courtesy of the Waterloo Catholic District School Board

Social media campaign asks students to THINK

By 
  • December 15, 2012

The Waterloo Catholic District School Board thinks the answer to cyber-bullying isn’t punishment policies but bands on cellphones — blue rubber bands.

By having the blue rubber bands, an anti-bullying symbol, wrapped around a student’s cellphone they are forced to think about what they are going to post online before doing it, said John Shewchuk, the board’s chief managing officer.

“We believe it is simply a prudent practice for public sector organizations to have acceptable use policies regarding the use of all public resources,” said Shewchuk. “We came up with the idea to put this little blue elastic around your Blackberry or your iPhone … to take it on from the point of view of crime prevention as opposed to dealing with the bullies and victims after they’ve been bullied and victimized.”

Appropriately named THINK, the campaign originated last year as a joint effort between the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council, which Shewchuk once chaired, and St. Mary’s High School in Kitchener, which already had its own anti-bullying project called Band Together in Kindness to End Bullying.

“It was really interesting to see in that school in particular, as a pilot project, if you didn’t have the band on your phone it was like, ‘well what’s the matter with you?’ not the other way around,” said Shewchuk, adding several local schools have joined the initiative.

“Here in Waterloo Region we are looking at each other saying the end has to begin somewhere. It might as well begin here with us.”

It’s hoped that by next September all schools within the board will be participating in the THINK project. Shewchuk recently purchased a 10-kilogram bag of elastics in the hope that it happens.

Now that it has begun in Waterloo Region, Shewchuk’s dream is to see it expand beyond his board. The Brant Haldimand Norfolk Catholic District School Board is one that has adopted the program.

“I thought it was a pretty powerful campaign because of its simplicity and yet its depth,” said Tracey Austin, communications manager for the Brant Haldimand Norfolk board.

“One of the things that really touched me is that it was simple because it used language that small children could understand as well as our teenagers.”

Austin first saw the campaign at a communicators meeting at the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association office. After seeing the flyer and receiving permission Austin shared it with her communication colleagues, superintendent and a few principals. Slightly more than a month later every classroom, computer lab and staffroom has a THINK campaign poster in it thanks to the local Safe Schools Committee. The committee also ensured that each school was supplied with an abundance of blue elastic bands.

But it’s just a start for Shewchuk who said that, because the cost is nearly non-existent, there’s no reason this can’t go national.
“It’s really cool to just see how this has taken off,” he said. “It’s such a simple idea with such a powerful message.”

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