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October is National Bullying Prevention Month, and in its honor, we were proud to host renowned speaker Kirk Smalley from Stand for the Silent. In 2010 Kirk and his wife founded the organization following the death of their 11-year-old son to raise awareness of the devastation caused by bullying. Kirk shared the story of his son Ty, who was bullied in school and tragically ended his life on a day that the pain and suffering was too great. He also shared individual stories of some of the more than 55,000 children who have taken their lives in the past seven years because of bullying.

Kirk’s resounding message is that the power to change this is possible by choosing to respect others and to take a stand when witnessing situations where someone is being bullied. Kirk identifies a number of aspects to bullying: power imbalances, repetitive actions and intention to harm or diminish, in addition to the obvious physical interactions: relational aggression including excluding or ostracizing other people, talking behind another person’s back, spreading rumors and lies and participating in gossip. Relational aggression is especially hurtful because it deprives kids of the opportunity to form meaningful connections with their peers – something that is especially important during the tween and teen years. Cyberbullying over text or on social networks is especially harmful because these tools are used as a way to engage in relational aggression and verbal bullying. The challenge with cyberbullying is that it can take place 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And it is done at time anonymously.

Assisting with the presentation were three Academy students; Zack Cooper, Tamar Dallal and Yardana Ben-Simon. These students assisted by sharing the bios of young people that Kirk identified as being the targets of bullies, reading the story on how this organization began and sharing the Stand for the Silent Pledge that the Academy students were invited to recite:

“From this day forward, I promise to respect those around me as well as respect myself. I am somebody and I can make a difference. I can make another feel loved. I can be the helping hand that leads another back to the path of hope and aspiration. I will not stand silent as others try to spread hatred through my community. Instead, I pledge to lift up these victims and show them that their life matters. I will be the change because, I AM SOMEBODY.”

After the assembly in the gym, students had the opportunity to meet in small classroom groups facilitated by mental health professionals in the community, which included: Reach Chicago, Madraigos and social workers from Hillel Torah, Arie Crown, Solomon Schechter, Bais Yaakov, Chicagoland Jewish Day School and Jewish Child and Family Services. Other facilitators were Academy teachers and support staff. During these breakout meetings, discussions continued about the topic of bullying and over 50 private letters/notes were written that will be forwarded to Kirk Smalley and his wife.

One major outcome of this program is that Academy Students will be invited to participate in the formation of a local chapter of the Stand for the Silent, providing our students with a hands-on response to support the initiative. The social services department will serve as the faculty advisors to this chapter.

For more information contact Phil Zbaraz. Many thanks to the Academy Associates for helping to sponsor this program and to AA President and parent Tracy Aberman for helping to coordinate the event.

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