September is a time for fresh starts. No one enters school thinking they are going to start a fight, be a victim of a violent attack, or feel ostracized because of their gender orientation. Anticipation runs high. Sometimes too high. Youth have high expectations around clothing, technical devices, teachers, class dynamics, extracurricular activities, after school jobs, friendships, and romances. Emotions (positive and negative) are displayed for all to experience, no matter how discrete one believes they are behaving. The energy in the school is palpable. Layered on top of that are the emotions and expectations of school personnel and the families of the youth in the school. In everyone’s haste to be on time, be the best they can be, make the grade, and make the team, what often is forgotten is respect. Respect for different perspectives, orientations, responses, and requirements.
On Salt Spring Island, respect is an integral part of the yearly curriculum. The Respectful Relationships program has become a fixture in the middle and high school. It is a program that aspires to stop bullying, interpersonal, partner, and family abuse, through ‘relationship education’ with youth. For over a decade, School District #64 has supported this program and invited in trained facilitators to work with youth in grades 7, 8, 9, and 10. Each grade experiences 12 sessions a year focussed on bullying, sexism, racism, and homophobia, with a focus on the development of healthy, non-violent relationships among adolescent boys and girls.
Former RCMP Constable on Salt Spring Island, Sgt. D.F. (Danny) Willis wrote:
“SWOVA has been working with local youth for several years in the Respectful Relationships program that they developed. It is difficult to quantify such programs’ success. Anecdotally I can say that RCMP members that come to Salt Spring Island find that the youth they encounter are much more courteous than youth they had encountered in previous postings.”
The success of the Respectful Relationships program is a result of an amalgamation of partnerships within the community. It would not be the success it is without the endorsement of the RCMP, the support and willingness of School District #64 to incorporate the program into the curriculum, the honouring of the values of the program by administration and staff at the partner schools, and the acceptance and appreciation of the program by parents of youth. Above all, the youth, are Respectful Relationships biggest champions which is most evident in the Youth Team. The Youth Team is a body of youth from grades 9, 10, 11, and 12 who meet weekly to gain facilitation skills, to learn more about advocacy and social justice, and to co-facilitate with the adult facilitators in the grade 7 and 8 sessions.
September is a time to reaffirm the energy and commitment Salt Spring Island has to its youth. The Island is our island and the youth are our youth. We’re here as a community to support our youth as well as to foster the kind of humans we all wish to live with. For this, our home is a better place. For this, we are thankful for the contributions each one of us is making to ensure the positive energy of September continues all year round.
To learn more about Respectful Relationships go to: http://respectfulrelationships.swova.org/
Chris Gay – R+R Coordinator