University student says ‘thank you’ for high school help

WATCH: The Restorative Action Program gives courage to students facing bullying and cyberbullying.

Summer Derksen never thought she would graduate from high school.

“I was too scared to show up and then once I did I started having panic attacks,” she said, describing her first two weeks of class.

Derksen suffered from anxiety in Grade 9 and cyberbullying for the three years after that.

“I would be in bed in my safest place, in my home, and that’s when people would attack me,” she said.

“That’s when I would get hurt and made fun of.”

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Derksen returned to Saskatoon’s Walter Murray Collegiate, four years after being unable to attend class and a few months after graduating, to thank the person whom she says made everything possible. She’s also here to tell Teresa Michayluk, the facilitator with the Restorative Action Program (RAP), how she’s enjoying her first few weeks of university.

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“RAP helped me have the courage to show up to school every day because I knew if something did happen I’d have a place to go,” Derksen said.

RAP is a non-profit organization that provides support for students in nine high schools across the city. It teaches conflict resolution skills.

“When I see somebody come to my door I look at it as an open opportunity to help students build on any type of skills they already have and to help them find the strength to be able to get through any type of situation that they might be dealing with,” Michayluk said.

The program works with students on whatever issue they may be facing, from cyberbullying to gang violence.

RAP’s executive director Winston Blake said it fills a gap between teachers, community members and police.

“If teachers wanted to be social workers, they would have gone into social work,” he said.

Blake said success for the program is “helping young people when they need it” and ensuring any fix isn’t just temporary.

Michayluk speaks to students about everything from gang violence to online behaviour — urging them to “think before they post.” She also teaches conflict resolution, teaching that conflict is normal and that handling the stress is the most important part.

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“We don’t want to be hurting anyone’s feelings, we don’t want to be putting anyone down but we still need to handle the conflict. Especially because they have four years that they need to coexist with [each other],” she said.

READ MORE: Saskatoon high school students rally against bullying on Pink Day

She only has a fixed schedule for appointments on very busy day, she said. She normally operates with an open door policy and will seek out the students when they need help.

“If I’m not in my room a lot of times kids will slide a note under the door and just say ‘hey, this is JoJo, [an invented name] please come and find me.”

Michayluk also runs a group called No More Drama, which focuses on body image, self-esteem and “drama queens” for girls, especially around age 15.

“Grade 10 is a year where students have a hard time with figuring out who they are, where they belong, they know that [academic] credits start to count in school, so there’s a lot more pressure on them.”

Derksen was once a member of the No More Drama group and Michayluk’s help with every issue she faced meant so much that they still keep in touch.

“I’m very close with her and was my whole high school career so definitely will always come back to [RAP],” Derksen said.

RAP meant so much to Derksen that it inspired her to become a teacher. She’s taking a bachelor of education program at the University of Saskatchewan. she said she wants to become a teacher so that she can help students the same way Michayluk inspired her.

“There’s so many kids out there that just need that person to hold their hand sometimes and pull them through and tell them ‘you are smart, you can do this.’”

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