Principal raises bullying awareness with a walk across Canada

A New Brunswick school principal is raising awareness of bullying by walking across Canada — while still getting to work in McAdam each day.

Bruce Van Stone, the principal at McAdam High School, has been walking 15 kilometres a day since the summer and by June 2018, he will have walked a distance equivalent to a cross-country trek.

En route, he’s also been raising money for charities tackling the problem of bullying. 

“I really want to do something fairly symbolic to help families, and kids and victims of any kind of harm,” Van Stone said.

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When Van Stone started the project, named Steps for Respect, he did so with friends who’d been bullied in mind.

One friend in particular stood out. He was hazed on a sports team.

“But it went beyond what you would even usually expect,” said Van Stone.

“He started to harm himself and [think] of suicide.”

Not good vs. bad

Van Stone said he, too, was bullied as a kid, but he was a bully as well.

“It’s complicated,” he said. “It’s too easy to say good, bad, or bully, victim.

“There’s a lot more to the dynamic.”

At first, the money that Steps for Respect raised went to Bullying Canada, a national anti-bullying charity.

With an increase in donations, the project has started giving money to other organizations, including the Amanda Todd Legacy Society, set up after Todd, a bullied B.C. teenager took her own life.

“The momentum built and there’s other organizations that have been contacting me and reaching out,” Van Stone said.

Changing society

Van Stone said society’s reaction to bullying has changed over the years and it’s more supportive now of victims.

“I was raised, well, you’d be stoic. You know, ‘Suck it up Bruce.’

“There certainly wasn’t programming, or guest speakers or people coming into school saying, ‘Let’s not hurt each other.'”

Van Stone, who has spent more than a decade in the New Brunswick school system, said there has been a change in how schools handle bullying.

They used to be more focused on dealing with bullying after it happened, but now they try to stop it before it starts.

Van Stone said this has made a difference.

“Incidents are dropping. … It’s getting better.”

His students have supported the bullying awareness project, but he has been asked if he thinks it will actually change anything.

“I really don’t know, but I’m sure as heck going to try,” Van Stone said.