Grey Cup fever was in the air Tuesday, and so was a passionate desire to put an end to bullying in schools.
About a thousand elementary school students from the Greater Toronto Area hopped on public transit and traversed long distances to rally against bullying in the Yonge-Dundas square. The event, part of the 100th Grey Cup Festival, was hosted by the Argos Foundation.
“Bullying prevention became the main message of the Toronto Argonauts,” said Jason Colero, the director of education programs at the Argos Foundation. “If you’re not safe in school, you’re not reading.You’re afraid. How can you learn when you’re in fear?”
Mr. Colero is the founder of the Toronto Argonauts’ Huddle Up Bullying Prevention Program in the GTA. The program, now in its 13th year, is recognized by the Ministry of Education in its registry of anti-bullying programs.
Mr. Colero spoke to students Tuesday morning about how he himself was once bullied “almost to death.” He encouraged children to stand up against bullying if they see it happening.
Several students at the rally said they were inspired by his message and that it got them talking about how to address the issue. Many were from schools where education around bullying takes place almost every day.
Almost all the students who attended signed a pledge card stating: “I will not stand by, I will stand up.”
Chiara Zenelaj, a Grade 4 student at the Chester Elementary School near Pape Avenue and Cosburn Avenue, said she had stood up to a bully once on behalf of a friend who had been reduced to tears by the bully. Her classmates Ethan Hunte and Arthur Iliescu Murakami said they had been bullied several times in the past, and are learning how they can deal with bullying themselves, and when to approach teachers, parents and friends for help.
“We stay together and stand up for each other,” said Ethan.
The elementary school students began filing out of the square around noon in time for the second rally by high school and middle school students. Another thousand students were expected to attend the afternoon rally.
Corey Lenglet, 13, from Eastern Commerce Collegiate Institute, won a poetry writing contest in which he compared the actions of bullies to predatory animals in the wild. He said that inserting education around bullying into an event related to the Grey Cup is a fun way to learn.
“Bullying is intentional and hurtful,” said Corey. “I think it’s important to talk about it.”
The event also featured successful artists who were bullied as young children like Lil Jaxe, a teenage rapper who was picked on for stuttering. Lil Jaxe sent the message that people should be proud of their individual differences by talking about how he turned his “disability into a possibility” through rapping.