Family Focus Friday: USS Theodore Roosevelt Confronts Bullying Virtually

Cmdr. Richard D. Jones, Assistant Air Officer of USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), listens during a bullying panel discussion at Campostella Elementary School in Norfolk, Va.

By CAPT Doug Verissimo; Executive Officer, USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71)

Last month I asked my PAO to explore ways we could communicate positive messages from USS Theodore Roosevelt Sailors to the Hampton Roads area. Not an easy request. The PAO team came up with a great idea; we decided to try conducting digital field trips to local elementary schools.

My PA team took a video camera to one of the schools and let the kids ask 10 questions for the Sailors to answer. The questions weren’t all easy, “What is your job?” and “What places have you visited in your career?” One little girl asked, “Why do people bully others?” That type of question requires a thoughtful response, so we decided to be a part of the response that went back to that little girl.

The TR Sailors created a short video that gave our perspective on bullying and placed it on our Facebook page. The Message: We don’t tolerate bullying on the TR. We treat all people with dignity and respect.

We were surprised and honored when the principal of Campostella Elementary School said he viewed the video and wanted TR Sailors to lead a “Bully Assembly” at the school.

Our immediate response was “Yes.” We live and work in the Hampton Roads community and care about the well-being of its children. We know bullying is a national issue with nefarious impacts on a child’s ability to learn and thrive in the classroom environment.

We assessed the mission and believed we could be effective because, when young kids bully one another it’s distressing— but it has the advantage of being easier to detect. Unlike when kids get older, there are no nuances when it comes to hitting or name-calling. We concurred with Campostella that elementary school kids actually have a very strong sense of justice. Also, if you intervene early you can reverse a very negative trend.

I had my PAO meet the school’s principal and guidance counselor to create an assembly agenda that was a combination of  videos depicting typical bullying scenarios like name calling, hitting, threats— and audience participation. One lesson we taught the kids was that most kids fit into one of three categories: bully, bullied or bystander. As the bystander, we taught them that they actually play a role in how far a bully goes. That is, most bullies back down if you don’t give them an audience or you threaten to tell an adult.

I was very pleased with the Bully Assembly. I think the TR Sailors taught the more than 700 kids at Campostella what a bully is and how to handle a bully. And, just as I initially asked my PAO to do, I think our efforts reached a very large percentage of the Hampton Roads community.

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