In her hometown of Thunder Bay, 14-year-old Taylor Gorrie is better known as Taylorpedia: that’s what she goes by in her YouTube videos, which feature the fedora-wearing reporter investigating the kid-friendliness of local businesses and issuing certificates. Her first video, posted in 2014, attracted 2,500 views within the first hour. More than five years later, Gorrie has presented more than 320 certificates.
But Gorrie has set her sights on a different target: bullying. She was subjected to verbal and physical bullying herself in elementary school; her mother, Meg, trained as a child and youth worker, says that Taylor was regularly beaten up and that she couldn’t get the school to take the situation seriously.
In 2015, classmates pushed her over a rock, and she broke her kneecap and growth plate. She was in a cast for four months and on crutches for three years afterward. Today, she uses a motorized scooter; she’s been diagnosed with Stage 3 chronic complex regional pain syndrome — a permanent condition.
“I’d sit at the table and cry and say, ‘Why me?’” she says. “I found it funny that [the school] would always have this ‘no bullying’ pep rally kind of thing and then did nothing about the bully.”
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Gorrie decided to use her experience to build something positive. Following a period of home-schooling during recovery, Gorrie switched to Kingsway Park Public School in 2016, where she and her mother designed and launched a program called Safe Zone. It involves such supports as restorative-justice practices and professional and peer-to-peer counselling for bullies and the bullied.
“The new part was having that initiative coming from a child,” says Darren Lentz, Gorrie’s principal at Kingsway, which hosted Safe Zone as a partnership between Meg and Taylor with Confederation College’s Child and Youth Worker students until Taylor graduated last June. “She brought awareness to bullying and well-being and mental health and the importance of understanding kids that might be in crisis. She brought resources and partnerships to the school but more importantly, she brought her charisma and leadership.”
In 2018, Gorrie spoke at a provincial conference for child and youth workers in Thunder Bay. In 2019, she received the annual Bullying Ends Here award, putting her in the company of former CBC host Rick Mercer and former Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke. In 2019, she received a letter from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledging her accomplishments.
TVO.org sat down with Taylor and Meg Gorrie to talk about bullying, what kids need, and what she hopes to accomplish next.
When did the bullying start?
Meg Gorrie: In Grade 2, she’d get pushed a lot. The same two boys. But it wasn’t escalating, and it wouldn’t be every day. Once in a blue moon, she’d get hit. Then it was every day, she’d be getting concussions.
Taylor Gorrie: They hit me with a hockey stick. Right after getting talked to by the principal or vice principal, he tried to push me down a flight of stairs. The principal did nothing, ever.
I have really bad anxiety. I can’t go to that school ever again, because I get so scared. I can’t go to the school or the playground or the [corner store] by our house.
MG: Taylor has been diagnosed with [post-traumatic stress disorder]. We’ve been face to face with [the bully] twice in the last month. We were in the same store and then at the craft sale. It’s a small town. That’s the horrible thing. Trauma therapy is helping.
When you enrolled at Kingsway, you launched Safe Zone. What was that experience like?
TG: We just wanted to help other kids. Knowing how many kids were being hurt by these two guys, I didn’t want anyone else to have to go through what I went through.
We [students] need a place in school so that if someone’s getting bullied, they can go right away. We had a pep rally and said, “If you’re getting hurt or having a bad day, come to the Safe Zone.” Instead of waiting for the principal, I wanted them to have peer to peer, which is something I never got to experience, and I thought it would be great.
Meg, as a child and youth worker at Kingsway, what was your involvement?
MG: A couple of students who were having a bad day would talk to each other and bounce around ideas like, “You’re not alone” or “I just went through that — this is how I got through it.” Obviously, one of us would be sitting there asking how we can back each other up on the playground because of strength in numbers. That’s when we figured out some of them had the same bully. Flashback.
Then we brought in the bully, and we’d have him or her sit down with the victims, and we’d talk calmly. Once they started hearing how they felt — they didn’t understand at the time; they think they’re being cool and funny — it decreased. The behaviour just curbed.
We did the toothpaste challenge with them where that bully holds a thing of toothpaste, and each victim says what they did to make them feel bad, and he has to squeeze that tube. I said, “Okay, here’s a popsicle stick. Put that back, and make it look like it’s brand new. You can’t. That’s what words do.” That was a big thing for Safe Zone. Those victims felt empowered, which you always wanted to do but you couldn’t.
You started high school in September. What’s changed, and what are you going to do next?
TG: The first or second day I had the scooter, I was trying to get into the elevator, and about five people came up to me and asked me if I needed help. I would definitely go back to elementary schools to do peer-to-peer counselling. It would be great to start up all the Safe Zone stuff again. I feel like it could help a lot of people if we had the opportunity to go into more schools.
MG: We’re currently planning a business plan for all the school boards in Thunder Bay and surrounding areas to present them with the program and the data we collected from Kingsway to show how effective the Safe Zone was. We’re hoping in the new year we’ll be able to secure a meeting. We’re also going to talk to the City of Thunder Bay for additional support. We don’t plan on quitting until we get our program into the schools.
What would you say to adults about what’s happening in the lives of kids?
TG: Look into it before you say you don’t believe them. A lot of the adults at my school brushed it off. My mom didn’t. But it has to be stopped before it gets really bad.
This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.
This is one in a series of stories about issues affecting northwestern Ontario. It's brought to you in partnership with Confederation College of Applied Arts and Technology. Views and opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the college.
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