Shelley PageThe Ottawa Citizen
Date Published: Saturday, February 18, 2012
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Young Stu Schwartz was impeached as Grade 8 student council president for failing to deliver on his promise — “Hey kids, pop and chips!” — to bring vending machines to his school. After his shameful downfall, the daily torment began.
The 13-year-old was roughed up after gym class, bashed into lockers, had his textbooks kicked out of his hands.
He was called: “Fag. Loser. Jew boy.”
He struggled to get by by playing the class clown, but he hated school, and many days he did not want to go.
After two years of suffering, Schwartz, near tears, pleaded with his principal to make it stop. Schwartz grew up to become Stuntman Stu, an Ottawa institution. A sought after radio announcer, of late with Majic 100’s morning show, he is also the voice of the Ottawa Senators at Scotiabank Place, and emcee and auctioneer for many charities.
The bullying was a stinging memory he kept to himself.
Then one day last September he read a story in the Citizen about a Grade 12 student who was driving with two friends near Nepean High School in Ottawa’s west end. They were throwing eggs at Grade 9 “frosh” when the driver’s vehicle hit the back tire of a student walking his bike.
“It triggered some pretty strong emotions for me,” Schwartz says now. “I talked about it on the morning show. I told listeners that I had been bullied and I was sick of the whole thing. Parents started calling in upset, too.”
After the show, he kept his outrage going on social media. Around lunchtime, he tweeted, “I’m so fed up with this, if I have to go out to every school in Ottawa and preach No More Bullies I will.” He wrote the Twitter hashtag #nomorebullies. Then he scrawled the same three words on his hand, took a picture, and circulated it on Twitter.
The No More Bullies tour was born.
Last Tuesday, Schwartz, along with the Majic 100 morning show’s Trisha Owens and Angie Poirier, presented No More Bullies to Grade 7 and 8 students at Notre Dame Catholic High School.
It was the team’s sixth presentation. They have fielded more than 500 requests to speak to mostly area schools about bullying. Most requests come from Majic 100’s listener base, parents and teachers concerned about the consequences of bullying that they witness daily among children.
Schwartz is among many high profile Ottawans reacting to the documented swell of bullying incidents at schools, as well as to the tragic October suicide of 15-year-old Jamie Hubley, an A.Y. Jackson Secondary School student who was viciously bullied.
But as Schwartz realizes, just telling his own story is not enough.
The Majic 100 morning show team added experts from Youth Net, a mental health program for youth housed at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, and the Red Cross, to their tour. City councillor Allan Hubley, in a recorded interview, speaks about his son Jamie. University of Ottawa student Scott Heggart joined the tour to talk about feeling suicidal in Grade 7 when he realized he was gay and his experience of “coming out” to classmates in Grade 11.
The Majic 100 team plans to dedicate most Tuesday mornings to visiting schools.
In general, Ottawa is celebrity poor, so having No More Bullies appear at your school is a bit like having the local equivalent of Ryan Seacrest or Perez Hilton show up.
Schwartz asked the students to shout out the names of their favourite Senators (Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Chris Phillips) before performing a rousing, goal scoring play-by-play naming all three.
Ten students were also called to the auditorium stage, and each given a piece of paper.
Angie Poirier asked the students to crumple up the paper, throw it on the floor and stomp on it. They were then urged to open it up and try to smooth it out.
“You’ve treated that paper pretty badly, haven’t you?” she said, pointing out the wrinkles and scars.
Now imagine if that paper was a person, she said.
“No matter how hard you try to smooth it over after the fact, the jabs and insults will remain on the person forever.”
That was a key message. The wounds you inflict today turn into scars.
That’s why a 37-year-old man was in front of 250 students describing events of 25 years ago.
Schwartz told the students that only reluctantly did he name his tormentor to the principal. The principal confronted the bully and asked him why he’d been harassing Schwartz. He says he’ll never forget the answer.
“The bully said, ‘I don’t know.’ I’d been tormented for two years and that was his answer. ‘I don’t know!’”
The students were attentive and engaged, and sometimes near tears, especially when Hubley’s interview was played and he spoke of Jamie, “different on the outside, beautiful on the inside,” and in near whisper, said “that’s my boy.” There was hushed silence, too, when Heggart described wanting to kill himself when he was exactly their age.
By the time the show was over, Schwartz had the students shouting “No More Bullies” before racing out of the auditorium with bands emblazoned with the same rallying cry on their wrists.
Afterward, Notre Dame chaplain Maureen Dufour explained that the presentation was a complement to the many strategies the school uses to combat bullying.
“Every school can’t do enough in terms of upping the ante about being vigilante about bullying.” She noted that cyberbullying is a significant problem that regularly draws police to many area high schools, including Notre Dame.
That said, she was concerned about the presentation’s emphasis on suicide as a consequence of bullying, especially for middle school students.
“When your message focuses on the extreme end of the consequences, you might miss that piece about what to do when you are first bullied and you start to feel depression,” she said. She said those concerns were validated in the days following, when she “debriefed” students in all 11 classes who attended the presentation.
“It was right there, the worry that if they are bullied it will lead to suicide. Three students had enough courage to bring that up and ask about it,” she said. So she focused on the continuum of feelings, and on getting help immediately.
But she said the most powerful aspect of the presentation was Stuntman Stu, himself. He had “come through it, and rose above it,” not only to become a public figure, but to want to help others “work through it.”
Schwartz is hopeful No More Bullies will make a difference, if only to a few students.
“I have two young kids, and I never ever want them to go through what I suffered.”
What to do with a bully:
Distract, disrupt, offer him some junk food.
Erin deJong, of the Red Cross, told Notre Dame students there are many strategies for “bystanders” to stop bullying.
She said they could “distract” or “distrupt” a bully, and that might mean offering them food, or telling them what they’re doing “isn’t cool.”
She also encouraged them to “report what you see.” And “by all means, support the victim.”
Maureen Dufour, Notre Dame chaplain, said students said afterward that this advice was extremely helpful and hopeful.
She also encouraged them to get help through the Youth Services Bureau, and their crisis line.
Faron Gogo, the Youth Engagement Co-ordinator for Youth Net, housed at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, described to the students the many consequences of bullying, from anxiety and depression to self-harm and suicidal thoughts. She also talked about the stigma of seeking help. She asked students whom they might tell if they were being bullied. A friend was the number one choice.
“Who do you think the second most likely person is that you would tell?”
The students suggested a parent, teacher or counselor.
“The second highest is ‘no one.’” Many students tell no one.
IF YOU HAVE A PROBLEM:
The Youth Services Bureau crisis line is (613) 260-2360. www.ysb.on.ca
Survey details impact of bullying:
A survey, commissioned by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada and released this week from Harris/Decima reveals the extent, and harmful effects, of bullying. It showed:
— Half of Canadian adults polled were bullied as a child or teen.
— Nearly a third of those think the abuse they suffered caused lasting harm.
— 89 per cent think bullies pose a serious threat to the long-term well-being of children and teenagers.
— 95 per cent of adults surveyed believe people have a responsibility to take action to reduce bullying.
— 85 per cent feel that providing children and teenagers who abuse others with a volunteer mentor is an effective way to reduce bullying.
(Please note that CMHO staff does not reply to comments that are posted on news stories.)