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Keeping Your WITS About You

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Keeping your WITS about you has a whole new meaning at the Fort McMurray Public School District (FMPSD). We launched the WITS (Walk Away, Ignore, Talk it Out, Seek Help) anti-bullying program in three schools Walter and Gladys Hill Public School, Fort McMurray Islamic School, and Greely Road Public School this fall. As of November, all three schools are hosting the initiative, which has a proven track-record of reducing bullying incidents.

Funded by the Rock Solid Foundation in British Columbia, WITS programs “bring together schools, families and communities to create responsive environments that help elementary school children deal with bullying and peer victimization,” according to officials.

WITS launch events at all three schools trained student leaders in spotting bullying, to not be a bystander, and to not hesitate before seeking help. RCMP officers, the Monarchs football team, and role playing students helped with messaging such as not to be a bystander, and to help a victim.

“WITS has undergone two research evaluations. What we have seen is that the instances of peer victimization has decreased.  This program gives schools one language to anchor to and give parents, teachers, students and the community the same language to use. This is about changing the culture of how we view and deal with peer conflict,” explains Tracey Gibson, Executive Director for Rock Solid Foundation, who visited FMPSD to train teachers.

“What was so great about coming to Fort McMurray to train the teachers on using WITS is that they seemed ready to have this common language. The WITS programs strengthen the already amazing work that teachers are doing in the schools and hopefully gives the entire community the tools and resources they need to create healthy communities.”

“What struck me being in Fort McMurray was there was a strong feeling of resilience, determination and pride. To see a community be so open to something new, something different was very inspiring. The teachers and counselors that I met were incredible and you can tell that a lot of time and work is going into the mental wellness of each child in the District.  My congratulations and thanks to all of the FMPSD staff for being the very best for the children of Fort McMurray,” Gibson enthused.

Dr. Brenda Sautner, Associate Superintendent, Education & Administration, FMPSD, echoed similar sentiments.

“Parents and students have told us our staff do an excellent job ensuring our schools are safe and caring environments for students. We want to ensure every student feels safe and cared for too. WITS helps students deal with peer interactions by giving them tips to use with each other. It is wonderful to watch children use the strategies and be so involved in demonstrating respectful responsible behaviours,” she noted.

Lisa Doiron, School Counsellor for the Fort McMurray Islamic School said, students and staff left all the launch events with language and tools for “using their WITS.”

“Sometimes student’s lack of strategies in dealing with peer conflict can negatively impact their mental health - self-esteem, anxiety, school attendance and engagement and cause depression. The overall goal is to use prevention-based programming to deal with conflict before it escalates. This universal program is literacy-based with ready to use lesson plans connected with Alberta curriculum outcomes. It unites staff, students, parents and community role models in a common language and a plan to work through conflict in healthy ways.  It demonstrates to children that conflict can happen but we can always work toward a solution.

“We are so excited to begin this journey in our District,” Doiron added.


Doing What’s Best for Kids at the Fort McMurray Public School District. For more information on any of our 15 schools, visit: For real time updates: follow us on Twitter: @FMPSD @DougNicholls2 and like us on Facebook: Fort McMurray Public School District.


Kiran is a national award-winning communications specialist, freelance journalist, and social media consultant. She loves telling community stories, and is a strong advocate for inclusion, diversity, women’s rights, and multiculturalism. Got story ideas? Contact her via Twitter: @KiranMK0822.