Stand Strong NZ: How an Auckland school confronted bullying head-on

One in two Kiwi kids is bullied at school, yet most schools claim to have a zero tolerance for bullying. New Zealand has one of the worst rates of bullying in the OECD. How did we get here? And what can we do to change the statistics? Sophie Bateman reports.

Every school has a bullying problem, but no school wants to admit it.

The solution? Make talking about bullying part of classroom culture from day one.

From hygge to IKEA, it seems like the Scandinavians get everything right - and solving bullying is no exception.

KiVa, which means 'kind' in Finnish, is barely a decade old and yet is already being heralded as a revolutionary method to reduce bullying.

Schools which have implemented KiVa have demonstrated, on average, a 10 percent reduction in bullying incidents. So how does it work?

The philosophy behind the programme revolves around three steps: prevention, intervention and monitoring. Trained professionals teach education providers how to cultivate resilience and open communication in their students.

Originating in Finland in 2006, KiVa now has licensed 'partner' schools around the world, including in Chile, Ireland and Spain.

There are 35 KiVa-registered schools in New Zealand, from Hawkes Bay to Invercargill.

Stand Strong NZ: How an Auckland school confronted bullying head-on
Photo credit: Newshub.

St Michael's is one of five Auckland schools currently using the programme, which principal Ann McKeown says has had a profound effect on the school's culture.

"It's uplifted everyone in the community to be able to stand up for themselves and not accept bullying, which is great because we've not seen as many cases being reported."

She heard about KiVa through Baradene College, which offers the programme to its younger students.

"I heard about it and thought 'wow, what an amazing programme'. I knew the school would really benefit. Finland has got a really good name for the wellbeing of their children, and their children doing really well."

Rather than only acting once an incident of bullying has been brought to the school's attention, the KiVa programme works by instilling empathy and resilience into students in their everyday lives. Students at St Michael's have a KiVa lesson every two weeks, and also learn the programme's core skills through a computer game.

Kids roleplay different scenarios in class and collectively brainstorm how victims and witnesses can react when bullying does happen - which it inevitably will in any school.

Principal Ann McKeown says KiVa's had a demonstrable effect on St Michael's as a whole.
Principal Ann McKeown says KiVa's had a demonstrable effect on St Michael's as a whole. Photo credit: Newshub.

The entire teaching staff of St Michael's underwent a day of training, so the responsibility of implementing the system is shared among the whole school.

Ms McKeown says the training day helped staff to think about their own experiences with bullying, and says several people were brought to tears as they realised how being bullied as a child still haunted them well into adulthood.

"People don't realise how much those traumatic memories stay with you."

She says KiVa works well alongside the school's Christian values of kindness and tolerance, and students are similarly positive about the programme.

"KiVa is about helping the bully realise it's bad to do what they were doing," says nine-year-old Thomas Browne.

The year five student has been bullied in the past.

"It's a pretty weird feeling. You don't feel quite the same, you just run away."

To help victims feel safe at school, those who report they're being bullied can choose to be accompanied by a small group of volunteers at lunch times who will keep an eye out for them.

One of the ways KiVa works is by making it second nature for students to report bullying incidents when they see them. Kids at St Michael's are taught how to recognise bullying - whether it happens verbally, physically or online - and how to tell a staff member about what they've witnessed.

Ten-year-old Keira Croad says she's noticed students feeling more empowered to speak up when they see someone being bullied, rather than brush it off as not their problem.

"I think [KiVa] definitely is working. People are standing up and people are stopping as well, which is great. People are definitely enjoying school a lot more that have been bullied."

Keira Croad, Jacob Croad and Thomas Browne say school's a better place to be with KiVa.
Keira Croad, Jacob Croad and Thomas Browne say school's a better place to be with KiVa. Photo credit: Newshub.

Her younger brother Jacob went through a hard time being bullied, but says KiVa has taught him how to recognise what he could have done about the situation.

"I got those skills and I realised I should have told [teachers] about it way before now, because it had just been going on and annoying me. Each day I was coming home and feeling sad. [Now I feel] really nice coming home."

Ms McKeown says it doesn't do any good to pretend bullying doesn't happen in New Zealand schools: the only way to fix the problem is to talk about it.

"I believe every school should be doing KiVa," says Ms McKeown.

"Parents can have the confidence that we're not going to be brushing it away, that we're going to be talking about it and dealing with it and really taking it seriously so that every child can feel truly safe at school."


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