Safe Spaces to host national speaker on suicide, bullying April 10

Kirk Smalley who lost son to suicide encourages others to speak out against bullying

Safe Spaces, a Fulton organization focused on suicide awareness and prevention, will host speaker and anti-bullying advocate Kirk Smalley on April 10 at William Woods University. Smalley lost his 11-year-old son, Ty, to suicide after he was bullied. Now, Smalley shares his story to speak out against bullying through the organization Stand for The Silent and encourages others to do the same in order to break their silence.

Safe Spaces, a Fulton organization focused on suicide awareness and prevention, will host speaker and anti-bullying advocate Kirk Smalley on April 10 at William Woods University. Smalley lost his 11-year-old son, Ty, to suicide after he was bullied. Now, Smalley shares his story to speak out against bullying through the organization Stand for The Silent and encourages others to do the same in order to break their silence. Photo by Brittany Ruess.

Safe Spaces is inviting Fulton students, educators and the general public to Stand for the Silent.

The Fulton group dedicated to suicide awareness and prevention among youth is hosting a Stand for the Silent event, part of a national program dedicated to fighting bullying and suicide, 7 p.m. April 10 at William Woods University’s Dulany Auditorium.

During the free program, national bullying prevention advocate Kirk Smalley will speak about losing his 11-year-old son, Ty, to suicide after Ty was suspended from school for retaliating against a bully.

Safe Spaces board member Sherry Abbott said the group wanted to bring a speaker to Fulton Public Schools after several parents of students throughout the district approached her with concerns about bullying, mostly at Fulton Middle School.

“I think (Smalley) has a really good story and what I’ve heard is his presentation has a big affect on kids,” Abbott said. “It sinks in and makes them realize what they’re doing. They think it’s just teasing, but for someone who already has something going on it hurts and stays with them a long time. They might not realize that they’re being a bully by some of the things they say.”

Promotional materials from Stand for the Silent state Smalley’s program is intended to reach both bullied students to teach them they “are someone,” as well as to reach the bullies themselves to realize the impact of what they are doing and encourage them to stop. It is also intended to encourage students who witness bullying to stand up for their peers.

Since losing his son in 2010, Smalley has spoken in more than 800 schools to thousands of students. He has met with Barack and Michelle Obama before the president’s White House conference on bullying, and Ty’s story was featured in the film “Bully.”

Though the program is typically held in schools, standforthesilent.org states it has offered programming in churches, community centers and organizations throughout the country.

Abbott said Safe Spaces had originally approached Fulton schools to host the event, but noted the district had been hesitant to work with Safe Spaces. She said Superintendent Jacque Cowherd told Safe Spaces that “whenever we do programs about bullying, it brings on a rash of bullying.”

“I don’t get that point of view,” Abbott said. “You may get a rash of people coming forward who say ‘I have been bullied,’ but I don’t think if we say ‘you’re bullying’ it’s going to make people go out and bully people.”

Cowherd told the Fulton Sun his main concern was that the program would have been planned during MAP testing preparation, and that while increasing the risk of bullying was a concern, the district has had a number of internal programs and strategies addressing bullying.

Stand for the Silent’s website states bullying intervention saves lives. Abbott said she hoped children, parents and educators throughout the county would attend the program.

“I hope we get some teachers to come because they’re with the kids all day long,” Abbott said. “A lot of what happened was the kids who were bullied’s parents went to the schools and the schools just blew it off like they were just teasing, and then these terrible things come from it.”

Dean Asher can be reached at (573) 826-2417 or dasher@fultonsun.com.

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