Caitlin Prater-Haacke of Alberta, Canada was urged by bullies to kill herself, via Facebook post. Instead of sinking into negativity she turned the situation into a positive lesson in using our words that earned her both the overwhelming support of her community and some trouble for her delivery method using Post-It notes to peers.
Lee Hirsch, director of the documentary “Bully,” which aired Monday on PBS Monday, is among those lending their support to Caitlin, who was reprimanded by her school for her “Positive Post-It Day” approach to bullies.
“What she did was 100-percent brilliant. It’s reflective of what we’re seeing across the country [America] and overseas.” said Mr. Hirsch in a phone interview after he posted about Caitlin on Facebook.“I’m a big fan of Caitlin and what she did. She flipped something so awful into something completely transformative.”
In late September, someone broke into Caitlin’s locker at George McDougall High School in Airdrie, a community just north of Calgary, and wrote a Facebook status using Caitlin’s iPad that encouraged her to die, according to the Toronto Sun.
Rather than letting the bully win, the 11th grader wrote inspiring, positive, encouraging messages on 800 Post-It notes and left them around her school on Oct. 6.
Caitlin filled her school with messages on each and every locker door in the school – presumably including the unknown bully’s locker as well - with messages like "You're beautiful," "Love yourself," and "You're awesome.”
While in Iowa during the filming of "Bully" Hirsch saw a similar movement on Twitter that used the @westhighbros tag, inspired by a student at West High School in Sioux City, Iowa.
“The idea is to tweet positive messages to people and in so doing to transform the climate of the school,” Hirsch explained.
However, because Caitlin went old school using paper notes, the school’s officials responded by pulling Caitlin out of class and reprimanding her for “littering,” according to The Toronto Sun.
Still the girl managed to retain her positivity and laser-like mission focus when speaking with the press. Now her campaign has also taken to Twitter with the tag #PositivePostItDay.
"Bullying is not necessarily addressed, and people get really down about it, I wanted to do something positive - it was about due time," Caitlin told the Toronto Sun.
Caitlin’s mom Nicole Haacke told the Toronto Sun, “I don’t understand that when my kid is bullied, nothing happens, but when she tries to do something positive, she is punished.”
However, Hirsch had a very tolerant take on the school’s misstep saying, “This may be a case of one administrator having a bad day despite being properly trained. It’s a thankless job they do in many ways. Get it right, nobody notices. Get it wrong, it’s a national news story.”
However, Caitlin’s town, led by a mayoral proclamation, banded together to launch a new anti-bullying campaign called “Positive Post-it Day” which encourages residents to leave anonymous notes of kindness for one another each year on Oct. 9.
“What I really got out of this story is the way this student chose not to be derailed by this negative experience,” said Hirsch. “She became a role model to her classmates, teachers, her mayor and her town.”
Maybe it’s time to enact an idea I once wrote about for sending notes to bullies who threw rocks at my son Quin in an effort to hurt him both physically and emotionally a couple years ago.
Instead of throwing rocks backs, we collected pretty stones by the river bank near our home and gave them to the bullies with a note that read, “Thank you for being my rock, the one in my road. The one I had to dig deep to get past. The one who taught me to climb in order to get over you. The one who marked my body and my way. This is so neither one of us forgets.”
Today I might add to that note, “You are the one who taught me not to throw rocks, but to give them gently to those who may need to carry them as reminders of a wall between us that needs to come down.”
No matter how we choose to use our words in these situations, this incident and remarkable student are a reminder that words of kindness and encouragement speak louder than any threats or insults.