Raleigh, N.C. — Students at East Wake Middle School sat silently Tuesday as Kirk Smalley described how his 11-year-old son shot and killed himself in 2010 after enduring two years of bullying.
"I'm here to tell you what happened to Ty. I'm hoping that, by doing that, you can make sure this doesn't ever happen again to another kid," said Smalley, who now speaks to students around the world about preventing bullying.
Ty Smalley's experience was featured in the documentary "Bully," which was released this year.
"Stand up and say it's not right," Kirk Smalley said, showing his young audience photos of boys and girls who were driven to suicide by bullies. The stories resonated with the students.
"I did not want to go to school, and almost every day, I would be in the office," bullying victim Charlie Woodlief said, noting that he got through that difficult time with the help of his family, friends and teachers.
"Bullying is a problem that affects a lot of people in different ways," student Shayla Stackhouse said.
Even East Wake Middle Principal Nancy Allen recalled being bullied as a child.
"Whenever one of my students comes to me and says, 'I’ve been bullied,' I remember those days, and I get a lump in my throat," Allen said. "I don’t want that to happen to one of my kids here. They’re too important."
Teachers can do only so much to stop bullying, she said.
"It's up to (students), and it's up to them to care about each other," she said.
A nationwide survey found that about one in five high school students had been bullied at school in 2008-09, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called bullying a widespread problem.
The Wake County Public School System has a Bullying Prevention Task Force that is studying the best ways to deal with the problem.
Each student at Tuesday's Stand for the Silent assembly received a bracelet with the inscription "I am somebody."
Smalley said he believes that, if children believe in themselves, they won't bully and will help protect others.
"You've got to be the one that can go up to that kid and offer your hand in friendship," he said.