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wits program


December 10, 2013
By Danette Dooley

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by Danette Dooley

An RCMP officer policing in rural Newfoundland was invited to participate in the 2013 Canadian Health Research Awards, held in Ottawa in December.

Cst. Andre Sparkes represented the national police force and touted its continued partnership in the Walk away, Ignore, Talk it out and Seek help program (more commonly known as WITS).

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WITS programs bring together schools, families and communities to create responsive environments, which help children deal with bullying and peer victimization.

There are two components: the WITS Primary Program gears toward Kindergarten to Grade 3. The LEADS (Look and Listen, Explore Point of View, Act, Did it Work, Seek Help) program focuses on children in Grades 4-6.

The in-class sessions are based upon popular children’s books that reinforce the WITS philosophy and address the victimization side of bullying by teaching students conflict resolution skills.

Community leaders – including emergency services personnel, university or high school athletes, elders and other community role models interested in preventing peer victimization – play an important role in the programs.

They launch the primary program with a swearing-in ceremony where students are deputized as WITS Special Constables. They also launch the LEADS program with the Tug-of-Help skit and follow-up with the schools throughout the year to see how their special constables are doing.

During the initial visit to the school, the younger students are introduced to the WITS Mascot. The walrus was the first ever WITS constable.

“We read them a book about a boy who is getting picked on by his classmates. He (the Walrus) helps him be more confident. He uses the WITS philosophy to help him fix his problems,” Sparkes says.

The LEADS program begins with Sparkes placing a tug-of-war rope on the floor. The rope represents the child’s rights, he says.

“We have a teenaged student from the school to represent the bully, then I get a volunteer to be on the other side of the rope. The tug-of-war struggle sees the younger student trying to protect his rights while the bully is trying to take them away.”

The younger child loses the first battle but is then asked to get some of his friends and people from the community who have been invited to the session to help him out.

With the help of his friends, teachers and community members, the younger student wins the battle.

“It shows the kids that with the community behind you, you don’t have to be afraid. You don’t have to have your rights taken away.”

Sparkes has been involved with the program since the fall of 2011, taking part in a pilot program and helping launch and support the spread of the program in both Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.

“Six schools were chosen in more rural areas to see if the program could be developed with help from front-line officers who are busy in their detachments and doing investigations. They wanted to see if they could also help with this program,” Sparkes says.

Sparkes was ready to pilot the launch for Nova Scotia in a reserve school in January 2012. He was posted to the Chapel Island detachment in Richmond County at the time.

“A school nearby heard about and wanted it as well. It’s about ten minutes away so I launched it there as well about a month later,” Sparkes says. “We launched the primary part of the program last April.”

Sparkes is quick to point out that WITS is not an RCMP program but rather a community initiative. The force supports the program but does not run it, he says.

“The police help and facilitate the launch but it’s community-based so you create an environment where the community is aware of the bullying and they help pass out the badges.”

{About the awards ceremony}

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) presented four awards to honour exceptional people for their remarkable contributions to health research. The CIHR Partnership Award was presented to the WITS Program National Partnerships.

University of Victoria Professor Dr. Bonnie Leadbeater, lead researcher for the program, accepted the award on behalf of the partnerships, which include PREVNet, the Rock Solid Foundation, local RCMP Detachments and the RCMP’s National Youth Officer Program.

The awards were presented at Rideau Hall by Governor General David Johnston.

___BIO

Visit www.witsprogram.ca to learn more about the program.

dooley@blueline.ca

Submitted Photo
(Front row, left to right) Dr. Alain Beaudet, CIHR President; Dr. Bonnie Leadbeater, recipient of the CIHR Partnership Award; Governor General David Johnston; Health Minister Rona Ambrose; Samuel Breau, RCMP youth policy analyst.

(Back row, left to right) Cpl. Ajit Tiwana, formally of the RCMP’s Youth Crime Prevention; Tina Daniels, researcher and associate professor in the Carleton University Department of Psychology; Dr. David Smith, from the University of Ottawa; Dorian Brown of the Rock Solid Foundation; and RCMP Cst. André Sparkes.


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