Poster by Alex – South Broadview Elementary, Salmon Arm, BC
The WITS Programs were collaboratively created by the Rock Solid Foundation under the direction of Tom Woods, MBA, and the University of Victoria with the leadership of Bonnie Leadbeater, PhD.
The WITS acronym was created at Lampson Street Elementary School in 1993 when Principal Judi Stevenson began teaching students four simple conflict resolution strategies: Walk away, Ignore, Talk it out and Seek help. These were eagerly adopted by teachers, counselors, and administrators and soon, “using your WITS” was a common phrase at the Esquimalt, BC school.
After seeing WITS at work, school police liaison Tom Woods sought to broaden its reach. In 1997, he launched the Rock Solid Foundation with a group of local athletes and law enforcement officials.
Its mission? Provide violence prevention programs to children and youth.
Wanting the WITS acronym as part of Rock Solid’s efforts, Woods partnered with Principal Stevenson to develop a WITS Program.
It was a community-based approach. School District 61 teachers and counselors provided input, and University of Victoria psychology professor Dr. Bonnie Leadbeater and her research team signed on in 1998 to contribute to the development, implementation, and evaluation.
The simple acronym evolved into the WITS Primary Program – the only peer victimization prevention program that reaches beyond the classroom to involve families and communities.
Creation of the WITS LEADS Program
As the WITS Primary Program spread to Greater Victoria area schools, a question emerged. Where do older students fit in?
If WITS was meant as a whole school approach to preventing peer victimization, students in Grades 4 to 6 would also need to be included. After all, even at this age, children still need adult help to solve peer problems.
The Rock Solid Foundation and UVic began collaborating with Frank Hobbs and Lake Hill Elementary Schools in Victoria to develop the WITS LEADS Program for students in Grades 4 to 6.
The program reflects the developmental advances which make this age group better able to understand other’s perspectives and inner worlds and recognizes them as leaders capable of making their schools and communities safer places for younger children. The acronym stands for a problem-solving approach to peer conflicts: Look and listen, Explore points of view, Act, Did it work? and Seek help.
The program was piloted in 2005 in School District 61 and made widely available in 2006.
In 2011, WITS began working with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to share the WITS message across the country, especially in rural areas. This partnership was the perfect opportunity to create a French language adaptation of the programs that would make them available to Francophone communities in Canada. The programs were adapted into French through partnerships with the Francophone Education Authority of British Columbia and the RCMP. The DIRE (WITS) and MENTOR (WITS LEADS) programs were piloted during the 2012-2013 school year are now fully available for use in Francophone and French Immersion schools.
In 2017, the current WITS Programs Foundation was formed by officially merging the University of Victoria WITS Program and the Rock Solid Foundation.