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Esquimalt-based anti-bullying program celebrates 20 years

WITS has helped teach kids around the world how to deal with bullying
Tom Woods (left), founder of the Rock Solid Foundation and WITS Vice President; Dr. Bonnie Leadbeater, developer of the WITS programs and WITS Program Director; Judi Stevenson, creator of the WITS concept and David Valentine, WITS President all received awards in a ceremony celebrating 20 years of WITS. (Andy Telfer/WITS Program)

An anti-bullying campaign that started in an Esquimalt elementary school and spread across the world celebrated its 20th anniversary this week.

In 1998, Lampson Street Elementary School principal Judi Stevenson began teaching students four simple steps for conflict resolution: Walk away, Ignore, Talk it out and Seek help, or WITS for short. Soon, other teachers and schools began using the phrase and encouraging kids to “use their WITS.”

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After an extreme case of bullying in Greater Victoria led to the murder of 14-year-old Reena Virk, the Rock Solid Foundation was created by local athletes and enforcement officials to provide violence prevention programs for kids and youth. Police Cpl. Tom Woods noticed the WITS program and contacted Stevenson to help utilize it in the Rock Solid program.

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The effort also incorporated the expertise of UVic psychology professor Bonnie Leadbeater, who helped contribute to the development, implementation and evaluation of the program. From Leadbeater’s work, WITS received federal funding so it could be disseminated across Canada.

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Since its inception WITS has grown to include four programs; WITS for kids in kindergarten to grade 3, LEADS for grades 4 to 6, and French programs DIRE and MENTOR.

Over 180,000 kids across Canada have used the program in over 700 schools. Countries across the world, including Brazil, Hong Kong, England and the United States have expressed interest in the program, and currently a Portuguese version is being developed.

Stevenson, Woods, Leadbeater and President David Valentine were honoured in a special presentation at the Songhees Wellness Centre on Tuesday night.

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