You could have heard a pin drop while Kirk Smalley spoke to the students at Taft Middle School. This silence reflects the magnitude of his story; it also reflects those who have taken their lives because of bullying.
Kirk tells the students at Taft, “I made a promise to my son Ty, that I will never, ever, ever stop my fight against school bullying.” A promise he made on Father’s Day, after eleven-year-old Ty took his own life.
Ty committed suicide in May of 2010 following a school suspension for defending himself against a bully. Ty was taunted for years at his Oklahoma middle school and this was the first time he fought back.
Kirk Smalley visits schools regularly as part of his crusade against bullying. He is a fellow Oklahoman, dad and a co-founder of Stand for the Silent, a program that addresses the issue of school bullying with a captivating, fact based, and emotional methodology. Kirk, along with Upward Bound students from across the city, present testimonies, videos and role-play that help develop a compassionate awareness of bullying and its affects.
The presentation is poignant, and students become involved by raising their hands to form the International Sign Language Sign for “I Love You & I Support You” when Kirk, or the other presenters, are overcome with sadness while sharing their story.
They, in turn, offer the gesture back as the students wipe the tears from their eyes. At the end, pledge cards are given to those who agree to stand for the silent. The pledge speaks of respect, love, hope and aspiration. Most importantly, it highlights the main lesson taught during the Stand for the Silent program: I am somebody.
Bullying is a generational epidemic that knows no boundaries. It is worldwide and the statistics are staggering. According to the American Justice Department, one out of every four children is a victim of bullying and at least two children are bullied every seven minutes.
The traumatic effects of bullying are long-term, damaging the victim’s self-esteem, isolating them from their peers and causing them to do poorly academically or drop out of school. Ultimately, it leads to health problems, emotional anguish and sometimes, even suicide, as in Ty’s case.
In fact, in the past two years across the United States there has been an unprecedented number of child suicides attributed to bullying, including that of a six year old in Oregon.
Because the definition of bullying is ever changing, there are no clear federal guidelines; however, last October Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and staff of the Department of Education sent a message to 15,000 school districts and 5,000 college and universities: Bullying is not acceptable and schools may have an obligation to intervene under federal law.
“We think in this country, bullying should not exist,” said Duncan in a national conference call. “A school must address bullying no matter the basis of the bullying or harassment.”
Therefore, states and schools work to create their own rules against this aggressive behavior. On February 22, in Oklahoma, anti-bullying legislation, spurred by Ty’s suicide, moved closer to becoming law as House Bill 1461 passed out of committee. In addition, Oklahoma City Public Schools has recently adopted this policy against bullying:
“Bullying is defined as intentional, repeated hurtful acts, words or other behavior, such as
name calling, threatening and/or shunning, committed by one or more children against another.
Bullying may be physical, verbal, emotional, sexual, or by electronic communication. Physical bullying includes, but is not limited to, punching, poking, strangling, hair pulling, beating,
biting and excessive tickling. Verbal bullying includes, but is not limited to, hurtful
name-calling, teasing, and gossiping. Emotional bullying includes, but is not limited to,
rejection, terrorizing, extorting, defaming, humiliating, blackmailing, rating/ranking of
personal characteristics such as race, disability, ethnicity, manipulating friendships, isolating, ostracizing and peer pressure. Sexual bullying includes, but is not limited to, exhibitionism, voyeurism, sexual propositioning, sexual harassment, physical contact, and sexual assault.”
– Oklahoma City Public Schools 2010-2011 Student Handbook pg. 15
Taft Middle School is one of several schools in Oklahoma to have Kirk speak to their staff and student body. They have taken it a step further by incorporating the Stand for the Silent Program as an academic fixture.
Ashley Kellert, a Guidance Councilor at Taft is ushering this program along by working to create a comprehensive plan with implementation to reach its goals. Kellert says, “The plan we are developing for Taft has been our baby for about four months. The district, our school and Kirk have all reviewed it, and I think we have a great working plan for action. It is growing and getting stronger everyday!”
The plan consists of vital components such as “Education & Awareness” through teacher and student training, “School Ownership of the Program” through Student Council and PTA, “Taking Action” through pledges, hotlines and mentoring and “Reaching Out” through district wide counseling partnerships.
Kellert is excited about the future of the program, and notes there have already been noticeable positive differences. “Awareness is the most immediate change I’ve seen at Taft!” says Kellert. “Bullying can overwhelm a school and people tend to avoid talking about it. Now we ARE talking about it; it is part of our everyday conversation. This dialogue has led to a HUGE increase in reporting.”
She continued, “Students know that they are not alone and they are asking for help. The staff and faculty feel that we can help them, that we finally have answers for them. As a result, I think the whole atmosphere at Taft feels more hopeful, optimistic, and positive.”
Ty was a typical young boy who loved his family, the St. Louis Cardinals and hunting. His smile lit up the room and the multitude of notes and writings to his family reinforce that he was a shining star. His family and friends will miss him deeply.
Kirk will continue on his mission. He will hold vigils at the capitol. He will work to pass the anti- bullying law in Oklahoma and he will recruit every student, first in Oklahoma, then across the nation, to help him put a stop to this shameful and intolerable behavior- and he will never, ever, ever stop.
You can learn more about Stand for the Silent by visiting the web site: www.standforthesilent.com