Carter County students hear battles with bullying at program kickoff

John Thompson • Jan 29, 2013 at 9:06 AM

ELIZABETHTON — A new anti-bullying program was kicked off in the Carter County schools Monday morning, with the debut held at Hunter Elementary School. A second program was held Monday afternoon at Hampton Elementary.

The Hunter student body heard intensely personal stories about bullying from Miss Watauga Valley, Brittany Kyte, and from Jeff Underwood, who served a prison sentence from the ages of 20 to 39 because “I got bullied and I fought back. It caused a young man to lose his life.”

Sheriff Chris Mathes served as master of ceremonies for the debut, which drew Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey and some school board members. Mathes emphasized the importance of the program by asking the students to raise their hand if they had ever been bullied. Nearly every student raised their hands. Mathes said he had also been bullied when he was a boy and told them it was a serious matter.

Mathes introduced the children to his friend, Underwood, and told him he had changed his life around.

Underwood told the students they should “come together to keep others from being bullied.” He looked directly at the eighth-graders and said “you older guys, take up for the younger ones.”

Although Underwood did not dwell on his time in prison, he told the children “bullying leads to the road of destruction. ... This bullying needs to stop. ... Help one another.”

He then asked the students to take a pledge to help prevent bullying.

Underwood’s presentation was a tough one and drew the respect of the students. He was followed by a more tender story from Kyte. She began talking about a true story of a little girl who was an overachiever but a target of bullying. Kyte said the girl almost gave up on her goals and aspirations because of the bullying. At the darkest part of the story, Kyte revealed that she was the little girl in the story. She told them she overcame the bullies and has now been crowned Miss Watauga Valley for the third time.

As part of her responsibilities as Miss Watauga Valley, Kyte developed as her platform a program called “Stand Up: Empowering Students to Overcome Bullying.” She has spoken to more than 4,000 students as well as the Tennessee House of Representatives.

The emphasis on placing an anti-bullying program in the Carter County schools is being made by newly elected school board member Rusty Barnett. He said bullying was one of the concerns he heard about when he was campaigning for the school board. When he was elected, he decided to initiate the program.

“We are going to do it in each of the elementary schools first, then we are going to take it to the four high schools,” Barnett said.

Interim Director of Schools Kevin Ward said the program “is a very proactive approach in dealing with violence in the schools. ... I was pleased with the presentation. It hits square on.”

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