By JOSH NEWTON
Tahlequah Middle School Preventionist Fred Poteete has spent years trying to increase awareness of a bullying epidemic that seems to have swept through schools around the world.
“I think there are always problems, always things that happen,” said Poteete. “But I think schools are definitely more aware of bullying problems. We try to keep it in front of everybody all the time. We’re trying to change the way we view violence in our country.”
Poteete has spent the past two years on an anti-bullying panel consisting of global experts, practitioners and researchers who sought to create a uniform definition of youth bullying. Of 12 expert panel members, Poteete was one of only from the realm of public education.
Fifteen “external reviewers” from various organizations were also involved in the process, as were a number of federal partners.
“I went to Atlanta, and we all met there for two days,” said Poteete. “Everybody had a good knowledge of different resources, and we basically went back to scratch and said, ‘What is bullying? What are some key elements?’ Then we met at the National Bullying Conference in Washington, D.C.”
Conference calls have been a big part of the process. While creating a uniform definition of bullying might sound easy, Poteete said it took many discussions and input from everyone.
“I think we were all satisfied with the outcome,” said Poteete.
Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – which collaborated with the U.S. Department of Education and Health Resources and Services Administration on the project – finally revealed the new uniform definition of bullying.
According to the CDC, bullying is “any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another youth or group of youths who are not siblings or current dating partners that involves an observed or perceived power imbalance and is repeated multiple times or is highly likely to be repeated.”
Bullying can inflict harm or distress on targeted youth – including physical, psychological, social or educational harm, the CDC’s definition says. Youth can be a bully, a victim, or both.
“Bullying can occur in-person and through technology,” the CDC says. “Electronic aggression or ‘cyber-bullying’ is bullying that happens through email, chat rooms, instant message, a website, text message, or social media.”
Poteete said the definition will provide schools and other entities with a guideline for creating their own anti-bullying policies.
“It was a privilege to be on that committee,” said Poteete. “I was there basically to make the definition practical so school districts could use it. A lot of times I would have to say to the others, ‘I don’t know what you just said,’ because they were using terms way over my head. I mean, I am who I am, and I’m working on this on a practical basis every day. I’ve been an administrator, a coach, a teacher, a parent liaison, a student advocate, and because of that, they appreciated what I said and they listened to me.”
According to Poteete, Tahlequah Public Schools administrators will review the new definition and compare it to existing policies. If any glaring differences exist, school officials will discuss whether policy changes are necessary.
TMS strives to create safe school
Poteete spends most of his time working with students at Tahlequah Middle School. Students are encouraged to report any signs of bullying, and can do so through several methods.
“If you go to our website, www.tahlequahschools.org, the first thing you see is ‘See Something, Say Something,’ where bullying can be reported online,” said Poteete. “Students can also use our Tiger Paw box to leave notes anonymously; they can tell me or a teacher or other faculty member; or there are other avenues. I have kids tell me things every day, and it all has to do with trust.”
Poteete admits some situations require careful response so specifics don’t leak out to other students.
“There’s always room for improvement, and we don’t want to give the false impression there’s no bullying here, but I think things are getting better,” said Poteete. “We do a hot-spot survey every fall where we take a map of the school and kids tell us where they feel the safe and unsafe areas are, or where they see bullying. I just met with the TMS staff last week and told them the most recent survey is the best we’ve had in the last four years. There were a lot of positive things, and very few negative things. The reason is because the teachers and staff are buying into this – into helping kids feel safe in their classrooms. If they feel safe in class, they are going to do much better in class.”