As part of Altmar-Parish-Williamstown school district’s initiative to eliminate bullying and promote respect for one another, guest speaker Kirk Smalley was on hand for two separate assemblies Oct. 16 to share his son’s story.
Smalley’s son, Ty, took his own life May 13, 2010, after being suspended from school for retaliating against a fellow student who had been bullying him for more than two years.
Since then, Smalley has traveled the country to tell his son’s story and urge children and teens to take a stand against bullying.
“I’m not a public speaker, I’m a construction worker,” Smalley told the fourth, fifth and sixth-graders during the morning assembly. “I’m here today to talk to you about Ty, and I’m hoping you can help me make sure this doesn’t happen to another kid.”
Suicide is the second leading cause of death in America for people age 10 to 24, Smalley said. One out of every four people will have a plan on how to take their own life by the time they graduate high school, he noted as he discussed how bullying is a primary contributor to those statistics.
Currently, a child is bullied every seven seconds, a statistic that Smalley said was unacceptable.
“Every single one of us has the right to just be who we are. It’s time that you young people in our world take a stand,” he said. “In these days of reading, writing and arithmetic, it’s time we learn respect for others – how to tolerate differences. To be a difference in somebody else’s life.”
Smalley said he and his wife, Laura, have reached more than 700,000 children since Ty’s death, spreading their anti-bullying message to young people. That message resonated with APW students Oct. 16 as they flashed the love/support sign and vowed to take a stand against bullying.
“I think this event (was) really important because some students might not care about bullying,” said student Ethan Pernisi, a member of the district’s anti-bullying task force. “They don’t know how serious it can be.”
Elementary school Principal Michael McAuliff reinforced Smalley’s message as the students were preparing to head back to class. “His message needs to go forward today, tomorrow, next week, next month and so on,” he said. “It can’t end (at the conclusion of the assembly).”
The presentation was part of a collaborative effort between the district and its anti-bullying task force, which was formed last year as a way to increase awareness of bullying and develop strategies to help combat such behavior.
More information about the district’s anti-bullying efforts can be found at www.apw.cnyric.org/district.cfm?subpage=46273.