A program aimed at building inner strength, self-discipline and confidence in Surrey’s high school students is gaining momentum.
Code Blue started – officially – at Earl Marriott Secondary in 2013. It expanded to Semiahmoo in 2014, then Kwantlen Park and Lord Tweedsmuir in September. It’s also running at Panorama Ridge and Princess Margaret secondaries.
In November, it took its first steps outside of the Lower Mainland, when former Surrey RCMP Const. Sue Harvey started putting Chetwynd Secondary students through the paces.
Harvey learned about the program in 2014, during an aboriginal policing symposium where South Surrey Const. Troy Derrick – who initiated Code Blue and travelled to Chetwynd in early December to work with Harvey – shared the impact he’s seen it have with teens on the Semiahmoo Peninsula.
“It planted the seed in my head, but I was still forming new relationships with the school,” Harvey said, explaining she had just transferred to the Chetwynd detachment at the time.
“This year, it was… game on. Let’s do it.”
Students who participate turn out weekly for an hour of physical activity led by a dedicated school response officer. The workout includes everything from sprints and sit-ups to burpies and relay-style agility drills – orders that are delivered firmly, with a healthy dose of respect and an underlying message about teamwork and attitude.
“Keep moving, you got this,” Derrick told students at EMS, as he led their final session before the Christmas break.
He reminded the students of the men and women training at the RCMP academy in Regina, who wouldn’t be home for the holidays.
“We do this because you can, not because you have to,” he said. “This one here is your gift. All those members who are doing this right now are doing it for you. They’re maintaining the right for you. You don’t have to be a Mountie to maintain the right.”
Emily Kuch, in Grade 12 at EMS and in her second year with Code Blue, described the program as “so much fun.”
“I love it. It’s a great environment and you get to be with friends,” she said. “It keeps me motivated, just makes me feel good.”
Principal Ken Hignell and teacher Renee Gregerson also participate in the training, which Derrick said is instrumental in delivering the message of teamwork.
“The program was set up to develop teamwork… as opposed to ‘us versus them’,” he said.
Hignell said it gives him a chance to mingle with the students on a different level.
“I do it to get out of the office and interact with the kids,” he said. “It’s important for me to role-model.”
Hignell also lauded the sense of family that’s been created by Code Blue, a point Gregerson echoed.
“Instead of teacher-student, we’re all equals,” she said.
Around a dozen officers are involved in leading Code Blue at the Surrey high schools, and they get just as much out of it as the students, said Sgt. Neil Kennedy, head of Surrey RCMP’s Youth Unit.
“I love the relationship-building,” Kennedy said. “Some of the kids may have not had a good experience with police in the past. When we reverse some of that… we’re seeing them grow way past the high-school level.
“It’s an aspect of the job where our bucket gets filled back up.”
Kennedy hopes to see Code Blue in two schools in each of Surrey’s five policing districts; it’s currently in four: South Surrey, Whalley/City Centre, Newton and Cloverdale/Port Kells.
“There’s a win-win for us as well,” he said. “We’ve had kids tell us ‘if it wasn’t for Code Blue, I’d probably be out smoking up. It’s because of Code Blue that I’ve changed my behaviour’.”
The roots of Code Blue were planted in 2008, when Derrick, from the Gitxsan Nation, began working out with two Semiahmoo First Nation brothers as a “way to get them engaged and keep them going at school.”
It worked, and after the boys graduated, Derrick saw the value in continuing to bring youth together and encourage healthier choices.
Harvey said after just two months of running the program in Chetwynd – which even the Saulteau First Nation chief has turned out for – she’s seen changes she can only attribute to Code Blue; an openness from students that she hadn’t experienced since arriving in the Peace River community.
“It provides a common ground where you realize, it doesn’t matter, we’re all the same,” Harvey said.
“They’re seeing the leaders in their community come out, and we’re on a level playing field. I think it’s making a huge difference.”
Derrick’s visit to Chetwynd was supported by the Mounties’ Aboriginal Policing Services, and he’s since heard further interest in the program from other areas of the province, including Port McNeil and Kitimat.
He emphasized Code Blue is not about the success of one person over another.
“There’s no winners or losers in this program,” Derrick said. “The only way you can compete is competing against yourself.