It’s amazing what happens when parents, community and schools work hand in hand

Take a look at a 14 year old kid. If you don’t have one of your own, think of the one next door, or the one who works at the drug store down the street. Or, the one who babysits for you.

Now, imagine yourself, head bowed, paying respects at that kid’s funeral.

And why? Because the kid was killed by other 14 year olds at school. Or after school. In a culvert. In a park. By kids a year older. By kids he or she hoped were friends.

Sounds weird? Sounds impossible? In Barrie?

Hetty van Gurp, from sleepy, peaceful Nova Scotia, buried her 14 year old son. He was bullied at school repeatedly until he was killed by his peer group, on school property.

And his mother has taken her experience and turned it into goodness, founding Peaceful Schools International with a belief that the best solution to bullying and taunting and peer sexual abuse is prevention. Not discipline. Prevention.

We can all theorize on what’s transformed elementary school yards from places of laughter and play to places of judgement and fear for some kids. It can start in the home, perhaps, be augmented by the nightly news, added to by violence-based games, enhanced by movies… I don’t know. But Hetty van Gurp has taken positive action from a horrible tragedy, one that’s no stranger to Canada if we look into our news pages.

When Hetty was invited by Catholic elementary schools to speak in Barrie, members of the Barrie Council for Safer Education attended and have transformed their concerns into an anti bullying campaign aimed at kids in kindergarten through early school years.

It’s an inclusive program, aimed at developing a prevention strategy that commits to providing materials and resources for every school, beginning in kindergarten classes. It’s hard to believe that kids as young as age 5 will ostracize one of their own, “picking on” that child until life at school becomes unbearable. It’s hard to believe that isolating and peer group pressure escalates to beatings, to on and off-school abuse that victimizes kids.

But it’s great to know that volunteers from school parents across the city, from both Catholic and Public elementary schools have joined energies to do battle in a positive way.

Maarit Steinwedel, chair of the Barrie Council for Safer Education, lauds the efforts of council members, people like Leeann Catling of St Catherine of Sienna; Tim Catling of Emma King; Joe Barros of St John Vianney; Diane Ashman of Willow Landing; Nicole Toy of Holly Meadows; John Sayer of Central Collegiate & Prince of Wales; Sheighla Hudson, interested parent; Dave Russell, Pope John Paul & Police representation; Michelle St. Pierre, King Edward School; Vince Lauria, Ferndale Woods, and reps from Assikinack, Good Shepherd and Innisdale High School. Terry Shaw represents Liberty Mutual Community Group, one of the group’s main sponsors, and the business connected to Elmer the Safety Elephant. Other businesses support the group… Midas on Yonge St., and A.B. Graphics on Bayview Dr.

With monthly meetings, the Barrie Council for Safer Education takes on issues that are important to several schools at once, lobbying for lights and crosswalks in front of schools. Council members meet with municipal representatives on issues like paving sidewalk areas, clearing snow near school walkways.

While the council came together to share information and resources, it’s developed a bigger voice to speak on key issues affecting school life in Barrie. Maarit shares issues like a bomb scare in one school, crossing guards for dangerous traffic areas in other schools.

“We’re tackling issues that have been around for years,” says Maarit, explaining that communication between schools and their families is essential to building healthy learning communities. The mandate of this council calls for a volunteer, parent-lead initiative to communicate with school authorities to ensure school safety.

To work together with the Ministry of Education, local school boards and individual school leaders means that action can truly have a community base.

Maarit says many Barrie schools don’t have representation on the council, and she sure welcomes that. You can contact her by email at or by phoning 728-6669. The next event for Barrie Council for Safer Education occurs on Friday, November 22, during Safety Awareness Day at The Event Centre. The Council will be launching its safety calendar which will help fund the Peaceful Schools International program on a local level. By selling advertising space in a calendar which features the art work of area children, the council hopes to raise enough funds to complete its current campaign. Interested in a strip ad or a coupon ad? If your business is aimed at families or children, it’s a good way to help out.

It would have made a difference to Hetty van Gurp’s son. Or Reena Virk. Or…?

It takes me back to the 60’s when the Fab Four gave us a simple answer: All You Need is Love.

Thanks, Maarit. And thanks, Leeann, Tim, Joe, Diane, Nicole, John, Sheghla, Dave, Michelle, Vince, and Terry!