Though it was once considered an ordinary aspect of growing up, bullying has become increasingly repudiated by schools across the country, and Tahlequah Middle School is doing its part to address the issue.
October is National Bullying Prevention Month, so TMS is holding Bullying Prevention Week to promote dialogue among students, their teachers and their parents.
"We recognize it for the month, but we do it for a week just to make sure we have a concerted effort," said TMS Principal David Bookout. "So we have different activities for our kids to be involved in. It's just to make people aware and give them ideas on how they can do their part to stop bullying at school."
Several types of bullying can be recognized: verbal, physical, relational, and cyberbullying. Research shows bullying often leaves lasting negative effects on its victims, including chronic depression, increased risk of suicidal thoughts, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, self-harm, substance abuse, poor general health, and more.
On Monday, the school held Affirmation Day to teach students the power of words and the written word, as they were encouraged to write positive notes about fellow classmates.
"Kids put their name on a piece of paper and everybody goes around to write something positive about that student," said Fred Poteete, bullying preventionist. "They can't write anything about their clothes, how they look, what kind of house they live in, or what kind of car their parents drive. It's more about how they act or behave."
Tuesday, students recognized Give Bullying a Hand Day. During homeroom period, students traced their hands on pieces of paper and wrote down prevention methods.
"They listed some things on their fingers that they can do to help stop bullying," said Bookout. "It could be, 'If I see something, I say something to somebody;' 'If I see somebody who needs help, I help them.' They just come up with different things they can do to recognize how they can help prevent bullying."
TMS planned a See Something, Say Something Day for Wednesday, giving teachers and students a chance to review how bullying may be reported. Students can report bullying in person to teachers, parents or guardians; they can leave a note in the Tiger Paw Box; or they can report online at http://www.tahlequahschools.org.
On Thursday, students will be given a Hot Spot Survey to help the school improve its climate. The school has surveyed students for several years, and oftentimes administrators learn better ways to make students feel safer. For instance, when TMS still had fifth-graders attending, around 50 students drew a line on a map from their fifth-grade building all the way to the cafeteria, adding X's along the route to indicate they didn't feel safe.
"Well, the reason they felt unsafe is because the eighth-graders were out in the hall at that time," said Poteete. "So all we did was just change the schedule for about five minutes so the eighth-graders weren't in the hall when the fifth-graders walked to lunch. That's all it took for us to figure it out, and how much did that cost? It cost the money to make the surveys and about 10 minutes of class time."
Students will watch a 20-minute video, "Gum in Your Hair," on Friday. Poteete said it's a fun video, "but it's to the point about bullying."
Fortunately, not every kid at TMS experiences bullying. Skyler Jessie said she hasn't been bullied herself and doesn't see much of it occurring at TMS, but added there could be a gray area when someone may misconstrue behavior as bullying.
"It's their tone that doesn't really say they're bullying, but the person looks like they are," said Jessie. "So I don't know what do and I don't want to accuse the person of being a bully."
Not every student is as lucky as Jessie, however. Noe Sosa said he's seen friends get "sad," because they were bullied, and recalled a time in elementary school when he was picked on.
"When I was playing, this person would constantly continue destroying my things," he said. "It happened for a while, until I finally told my teacher."
If students are concerned about being bullied, they'll likely have a hard time concentrating on their grades. They also might not want to attend school or are afraid of speaking out. Therefore, TMS works to combat bullying year-round, instead of just during Bully Prevention Week.
Brian Stanglin, School Resource Officer at TMS, teaches DARE and other courses throughout the year that touch on bullying.
"There's a big block in [DARE] about respecting other kids," said Stanglin. "I also teach My Body, My Life and Real Men. They're both focused on a lot of things, but they both have bully blocks in those also."
Students can also join the Safe School Committee, which is made up of students from each grade who report unsafe behavior or hazardous locations around campus. The committee gives students another source to reach out to if they're experiencing bullying of any kind.
"People think getting picked on is part of growing up," said Poteete. "I don't agree with that at all. I don't think that's something you should have to put up with. Every student has a right to stay safe at school."
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