EDMONTON – Grade 7 students in Mr. Martinez’s math and religion class are a little closer now. The students – who all attend the Spanish program at St. Kevin Junior High – have revealed their personal stories, sharing with each other what makes them different.
“There are so many kids here who just need to know that they are accepted, that they are OK, they are loved,” teacher Rafael Martinez said.
In October, Martinez dyed T-shirts in his bathtub and brought them to school. He encouraged his students to write the hurtful names they’ve been called on the front of the pink shirts. On the back they penned the phrase “born this way.”
The anti-bulling lesson went far beyond Martinez’s expectations. The students stood before each other, some opened up about their intimate struggles.
“I had a couple girls who said very personal things,” Martinez said.
“I was crying and the kids were crying. At the end they all hugged and I think the message was clear. The message was: this is who we want to be.”
Mark Anthony wrote “mama’s boy” and “nerd” on his pink T-shirt. He said writing down the words has helped him accept himself for who he is.
“It felt like I cleared my chest, like lots of rocks removed.”
Other students say the experience has boosted their confidence and self respect.
Along with signing a pledge to help stop bullying, Martinez hopes the students’ message will reach beyond the walls of his classroom.
“Remind ourselves that you can do something about this. This is real,” he told them.
On Wednesday, the students will stand before the entire school and bravely share how they’ve been bullied.
Feb. 24 marks National Pink Shirt Day, a movement that began in Nova Scotia in 2007, after a student was bullied for wearing a pink shirt.