The Cree School Board is not going to take the growing problem of youth violence lying down. In partnership with the Northern Quebec Teacher’s Association, the CSB will kick off a one-day violence-themed awareness campaign February 15.

“There is a lot of vandalism and violence in the schools,” said Judith Michel, Director of Education Services for the CSB. “I think part of the solution is getting the Cree School Board and the teacher’s union to join forces to make sure everyone is on board in sending this strong message to the communities.”

Michel has worked in various capacities in Eeyou Istchee for the past 16 years, including as vice-principal, principal and consultant in Waswanipi, Nemaska and Chisasibi.

She talked about getting together with other entities, such as the band council and Grand Council to help with curbing the problem. “If we bring everyone together it will be more helpful for each community.”

Broken windows and broken spirits go hand in hand in some of the communities as children are either suspended into submission, never to return to school or they are bullied into quitting.

On February 15, Elders will be brought in to teach the kids about respect and the importance of good communication to stop the escalating amounts of violence in the schools.

A similar event will be held at the beginning of the school year to remind the students how they should behave towards each other. The two days of awareness and other related activities throughout the year that will demonstrate the ugliness of violence is just a start.

One of the big things that has to be worked on is making the kids realize there are consequences for their blatant disregard for school property.

“If a student breaks a window, that’s money spent on repairs as opposed to other things it could be spent on,” she said. “If they don’t pay, what are we going to do? Not repair the school? It’s hard to make the parents accountable. Some schools make the students do the repairs or mop the floor or whatever, but the parents are another story.”

As a result of the vandalism, many after-school programs and events cannot be held because so much money is going towards repairs.

Michel believes initiatives like these will help to get the message across if everyone sticks to the plan. “It’s like anything else, it goes with repetition,” she said. “The more you repeat to them the philosophy of respecting yourself and respecting others, the more it will help. If you stop the bullying some of the students face each day, they might stay in school longer and have a better success rate. It’s not easy, but we have to do something. It’s getting out of hand.”

Michel said that when a student is repeatedly suspended it reaches a point where the principal does not know what to do and “for some that’s the only attention they are going to get.” One solution, Michel said, is to make violence a topic within the curriculum.

“In language arts, the topic could be vandalism and respect,” she said. “It could be a topic in math even. If we break so many windows and this is how much it costs. It can be done in so many subjects. The principal needs to remind the teachers to talk about respect in their classes.”

Northern Quebec Teacher’s Association President Patrick D’Astous agrees. He has a five-year-old boy attending school in Montreal and he has already dealt with bullies.

The new measures “will affect the teachers in a way to produce an environment where people can work well,” he said. “It brings serenity to the classroom, knowing that something concrete is being done about violence in the schools.”

Last September, the Centrale des Syndicats du Québec (CSQ) and the Centre de recherche et d’intervention sur la réussite scolaire (CRIRES) published a booklet that lays out how to properly deal with violence. The CSB will be using this tool to educate students, teachers and parents.

“It affects the whole classroom when a kid is bullying another kid or threatening a teacher,” said D’Astous. “The students can’t concentrate. It will help to create an environment that is free from that for everyone.”

D’Astous said one of the problems is what kids see on TV. Rappers with guns treating women like dirt are not reality, he warned, and those kids who emulate their actions are bound to get into trouble.

The situation in some homes – various forms of abuse at the hands of their own parents – also has to change.

“We can work inside the schools to prevent violence, but if the community doesn’t share our goals and unite behind us to fight violence everywhere in the community, it will be hard to make big progress.”