Northern Virginia teacher Jaim Foster stood in the Oval Office today and delivered a personal message to President Barack Obama about bullying: It needs to stop, so that every child can be safe and successful.
Foster was joined in his trip to the White House by NEA President Dennis Van Roekel and three other NEA members who care deeply about the devastating effects of bullying on students. All participated in the White House’s Conference on Bullying Prevention, where NEA’s first-of-its-kind, large-scale research study on bullying was unveiled.
“Preventing bullying isn’t just important to us as President and First Lady; it’s important for us as parents — something we care deeply about,” President Barack Obama said. Later, the President’s senior advisor Valerie Jarrett specifically thanked NEA – and Van Roekel – for its energetic work to empower school employees on preventing and responding to bullying.
Learn more about the White House conference.
Earlier this month, NEA launched the “NEA’s Bully Free: It Starts with Me,” campaign against bullying, which asks caring adults on campuses across the country to pledge to step in and stand up to bullying. (Take the Bully Free pledge!) Research shows that just one adult, who listens to a bullied victim and takes the issue seriously, can prevent that victim from missing school, failing classes, or dropping out.
Foster, a first-grade teacher who has delivered bullying response and prevention training across the country as a member of NEA’s GLBT cadre, knows something about the difference that a single adult can make. “Bully Free starts with me,” he told the White House attendees. “It starts with every single custodian, bus driver, principal…”
It also starts with his three NEA colleagues who also attended the White House conference: Indiana teacher and chair of NEA’s Women’s Issues Committee Kathy Parks; California teacher Vinnie Pompei, co-chair of “Solutions to a Crisis: Supporting Students, Saving Lives,” and Stephanie Veins, a teacher at South Hadley High School in Massachusetts, who started a community action group called “Count Me In.”
“Every single kid in a school needs to feel like there is at least one adult they can talk to – be it a teacher or a custodian… If they don’t have one, they have a real problem,” said George Sugai, a University of Connecticut professor and school climate expert, to the assembled guests in the White House East Room.
NEA Releases Study on Bullying
These four teachers represent millions of NEA teachers and education support professionals who understand exactly that. According to the NEA research released today, nearly 98 percent of teachers and support professionals – across all school levels and communities – said it was “their job” to intervene when they witnessed bullying incidents.
But the research also points to gaps in their ability to do so. For example, just half of all school staff has received anti-bullying training. And unfortunately, staff in urban schools, where the rates of bullying were reportedly highest, are the least likely to have been trained.
Interestingly, the research also identified an important predictor of whether a staff member would intervene when they see bullying – and it’s whether or not they perceive themselves to be “connected” to the school. That is, do they feel “valued as individuals and professionals involved in the learning process?” Overall, it’s support professionals – like classroom aides, cafeteria workers, and custodians – who reported feeling more “connected” than teachers.
This kind of information is valuable as NEA hones its comprehensive, research-based bullying prevention and response training, which has been delivered to thousands of educators over the past decade. It also helps with the targeted delivery of NEA’s anti-bullying curriculum and tip sheets.
Many of those resources are available at “NEA’s Bully Free: It Starts with Me.” Also check out bNetS@vvy, a partnership of the NEA Health Information Network and Sprint, that provides tools in combating cyberbullying. “Technology has provided our children many opportunities for advancement,” said Debby Ballard, director of Community Affairs for Sprint. “But new technologies have brought with them new challenges, such as cyberbullying.”
“I’m reminded that we have to work together – community, schools, administration, the federal level – we all have to work together,” Foster told the White House attendees. ” I think that’s what we started here today, that important first step of working together.”