Vaimoana Tapaleao is the New Zealand Herald's Pacific Affairs and People reporter.

Hands go up to reject violence

The Big Stand committee at Howick College encourages students to stand up against bullying. The campaign has been running for the past two years. Photo / Sarah Ivey
The Big Stand committee at Howick College encourages students to stand up against bullying. The campaign has been running for the past two years. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Hundreds of black and green handprints are plastered on a wall inside the gymnasium at Howick College.

It's a sign that hundreds of students have pledged to make a stand against bullying - a serious problem the school has had to deal with over the years.

The Big Stand campaign has been running for two years at the school and was set up by students to raise awareness of bullying and the idea that it is not okay.

Each year a student committee, made up of pupils from all year levels, comes up with ideas for events, campaigns and initiatives to help stamp out bullying at the school.

Head of counselling Donna Agnew, who oversees the committee, said the Big Stand was a move to get students to speak up if and when they saw bullying happening in the playground.

"It's about creating an environment where students feel safe," she said.

"It's an event run by students for students and it's about getting students to speak up if they see bullying happening and to not just standthere and watch. It's about being brave."

Each year various events are put on during a week-long Big Stand campaign.

Last year a "pledge wall" was set up in the school gym.

Students could make a pledge that they would stand up to bullying if they saw it happening, by putting a handprint in paint on the wall. Hundreds of students turned up to make the pledge.

This year students heard from a range of guest speakers, including Ben and Olivia Bray - brother and sister of Elim College student Natasha Bray, who was among those who drowned in the Mangatepopo canyoning tragedy in 2008.

Year 13 student Meghan Hull, a senior member of the committee, said many students continued the Big Stand message throughout the year by posting positive messages on Facebook and talking about it in the playground.

"Lots of the younger kids come to high school scared. But this is making them realise that yes, you're a small fish in a big pond but feel safe [because] you've got older peers who will look out for you."

Another member, Le-roy Mafileo, 17, joined the committee to get his "staunch mates" to see that bullying was not cool.

"I did it to help my mates see that the Big Stand is a big thing in our school and it's not cool standing there laughing when there's a fight or somebody's being bullied."

Principal Iva Ropati said the campaign had brought students together in a way that had not been seen at the school for a long time.

"We're trying to make sure that we're being proactive about it and doing something positive about changing young people's behaviour."

Mr Ropati acknowledged that the school had dealt with serious situations in which students were severely affected by bullying.

Such a case was that of 15-year-old Michaela Blaauw, who was tripped and slapped while a student there in2010.

The bullying was so bad that her family sent her to South Africa for schooling.

Mr Ropati said the case had been a sad one, and the school was now working on preventing such incidents.

"We're not immune to [bullying]. Young people have different values and you're going to get bullying in all schools," he said.

"But we're proud of what we're doing. We're trying to embed into the culture of the school that we will not tolerate having this type of antisocial behaviour."

- NZ Herald

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