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Anti-bullying advocate urges students to stand for the silent

WATERLOO — An anti-bullying and suicide awareness advocate urged an auditorium full of students Wednesday to respect their peers and tolerate differences.

“Be the difference in others’ lives,” Kirk Smalley told the overflow crowd from five school districts at Hawkeye Community College’s Tama Hall.

Smalley, moving up and down the auditorium’s aisles during his presentation, turned to a girl and added: “Sweetie, do you actually understand you could be somebody’s hero?”

Sixty-eight students in Oklahoma City’s Upward Bound program played that role for Smalley, who lives near Stillwater, Okla., months after his 11-year-old son, Ty, killed himself May 13, 2010. Upon hearing Ty’s story, they created the group Stand for the Silent, which now has chapters across the country and throughout the world.

That includes Cedar Valley Stand for the Silent, which organized the event along with the groups Alive and Running and the HCC student-run Minds, Action, People, Society Club.

Attending the event were 190 fifth- through eighth-graders from Nashua-Plainfield Community Schools, fifth- through eighth-graders from St. Athanasius School in Jesup, 40 students from Waterloo’s three public high schools, about 15 junior and senior high students from Cedar Falls Community Schools, and students from Hudson High School.

Stand for the Silent has provided the platform for Smalley and his wife, Laura, to bring their message of standing up for victims of bullying to more than 1 million children at more than 1,000 schools so far.

Smalley set large photos of five children, including his son, on chairs on the auditorium’s stage. All had committed suicide.

“Maybe you can help me to make sure this right here doesn’t happen to another kid, to another family,” he said, pointing to one of the photos. “I realize, guys, it takes a lot of strength, it takes a lot of courage to be the one that can stand up.”

Smalley said it has been 2,764 days since his son died. “On that particular day, Ty was sitting in the gym with his best friend,” he said, when the boy who had been bullying him for two years attacked. Ty decided to retaliate and was caught by a teacher.

“They always manage to see the second kid take a swing,” said Smalley. “That’s what happened to my boy. He was suspended for three days.”

Ty was taken home by his mother and told to do homework and chores while she headed back to work. “Instead, my baby killed himself on my bedroom floor,” said Smalley. When his wife came home, she found Ty had shot himself.

“Ever since that day, Laura and I have pretty much been traveling all over this country,” said Smalley, who works in construction. They have connected with many families of children who committed suicide during those years. “I have a list of 55,000 children that have taken their lives over the past seven years because of bullying.”

He warned the audience it might be hard for him to keep his composure throughout the presentation. Smalley showed them “I love you” in American Sign Language — raising the thumb, pointer and pinkie fingers while holding down the two other fingers — and invited them to flash it if he was having difficulty. The sign has come to mean “I’ve got your back” among those involved in Stand for the Silent.

Plenty of people made the sign throughout his talk, and many in the audience could be heard sniffling themselves as he told heartbreaking stories of bullying victims. When organizers of the event saw someone having a hard time in the audience they would run a rubber bracelet stamped “I am somebody” to them.

Smalley said someone can be bullied with a look, an action, a text message or in numerous ways online. He asked those in attendance to take one of the cards being handed out at the door pledging them to stand up to bullies and to stand with their victims. They could sign and date the cards.

“Suicide is now the second-leading cause of death for our young people ages 10 to 25 years old,” said Smalley. “It’s second only to car wrecks.”

He cited another statistic that one of every four children will not only think about suicide, they will also make a plan to kill themselves before they graduate from high school.

“There ain’t no way I’m living with that number,” he said. “We’ve got to make that stop, don’t we?”

St. Pat's kids shop for others for Toys for Tots

CEDAR FALLS — With just weeks to go before Christmas, eighth-graders Sydney Stokes and Paige Wageman were up and down the aisles of the Cedar Falls Walmart, adding pink and purple curling irons and cushy bedrest pillows to their carts.

“What do you think about nail polish?” Wageman asked.

The two St Patrick’s Catholic School students wheeled their way over to the beauty aisle, but were slightly disappointed: Nail polish was just $9 or less.

“We could get more kits,” Wageman said.

“Like these ones?” Stokes said, finding gift sets on the aisle cap.

Wageman frowned. “They’re not very expensive,” she said of the $10 gift sets. “But that’s cool.”

The girls loaded up a few into their overstuffed cart and went to get a new, empty cart. They had only spent about half of what they were given, and it was proving to be a difficult task.

But they and their St. Pat’s classmates weren’t greedy teenagers. They were tasked with spending $10,000 at the Cedar Falls Walmart on Wednesday afternoon in order to buy gifts for children in need through Toys for Tots.

The $10,000 was a gift from David Prescott, an alum of St. Pat’s who now lives and works in New York. It’s Prescott’s second year donating that amount, though this year he wasn’t able to be on site for the Walmart trip.

“He gave St. Pat’s a check for $10,000 and gave us a check for $10,000,” said Lisa Vry-Lageschulte, who was running the Toys for Tots initiative for the Cedar Falls Exchange Club this year.

The toys students picked out on Wednesday’s trip were being trucked to the local St. Vincent de Paul and the Salvation Army, who would deliver them to about 500 children next week.

Each student had to spend $425 buying toys, games, scooters, beauty products and other gifts, most with a range between $25 and $30, and especially for infants or teenage boys and girls.

“I think it’s probably harder than you think it is to spend $425,” said Bev Mach, principal at St. Pat’s.

Because the students were paired off, however, they actually had to spend $850, which meant multiple carts and multiple items. Although Exchange Club volunteers stressed that students should pick out multiples of a few things, many students preferred a variety — and the adults let them decide.

“They know what they like — that’s the big thing,” said Joanne Heath, president of the Exchange Club.

Eighth-graders Ivan Zdilar and Tyler Sigwarth kept track of every purchase with their phone’s calculator. With $849 spent, they picked out a little, 94-cent Hot Wheels car, a Porsche, to make sure they left no dollar unspent.

“It’s really fun, and something you never really get to do — spending this much money, but also buying toys for kids that would otherwise not get them,” Sigwarth said.

“It’s the excitement of doing it for a good cause,” Zdilar added.

Regents OK UNI paying $2.4 million for bookstore

CEDAR FALLS — A request from the University of Northern Iowa to pay $2.4 million for a privately owned bookstore that has been serving its Cedar Falls campus for 80 years won the approval Wednesday of the Board of Regents.

Because UNI plans to run University Book and Supply as a nonprofit, the institution won’t incur additional cost to operate it, administrators told regents during their regular board meeting.

“So this will be a profitable event?” Regent Larry McKibben asked. “They’ll be no additional costs to the university?”

“That’s the intention,” Senior Vice President for Finance and Operations Michael Hagar said.

The sale includes all the bookstore’s assets, including the Hawkeye Bookstore at Hawkeye Community College. The cost doesn’t include the value of textbooks and other merchandise estimated to be worth $575,000.

The board additionally agreed Wednesday to waive a section of Iowa Code that would have barred UNI from continuing to operate Hawkeye Bookstore after the sale goes through, which is expected in March. The university argued disrupting the Waterloo bookstore’s operation would pose an undue hardship on the community college.

Right now, UNI doesn’t own or operate its own bookstore — unlike University of Iowa and Iowa State University. But UNI is looking to enter the bookselling business at a time of significant industry change, as options for digital books are forcing stores to diversify inventory or even close altogether.

UNI officials have argued students will benefit from the transaction, as they will continue to have local access to textbooks and course materials and see “at least a 7 percent reduction in what they pay for textbooks from the bookstore,” according to a message to faculty and staff from Hagar.

The university also is pursuing plans to make purchasing more convenient, according to Hagar’s message, which did not provide details.

“The purchase is being funded with a loan, which will be paid back from bookstore operations,” he wrote. “No general education funds are being utilized for this transaction.”

Dec. 7, 2017

Q: Is the city of Cedar Falls sanitary sewer system being investigated by the federal EPA like Waterloo? How much are they spending on their system for upgrades?

A: Cedar Falls Community Development Director Stephanie Houk Sheetz said, “The Cedar Falls wastewater treatment facility and collection system is monitored and inspected on a regular basis by the EPA and the Iowa DNR. In 2014 the EPA conducted an extensive review of the city’s records, operations and practices regarding the entire wastewater system. Following the review the city was not required or mandated to make any additional improvements to the system. The city has invested more than $40 million in operations, maintenance and upgrades to the treatment plant and collection system since 2000. The city’s five-year plans call for over $50 million to potentially be invested in improvements to continue meeting EPA requirements.”

Q: Is the company working on city garage by The Courier parking ramp ever going to get it finished?

A: Work on the city of Waterloo’s East Fifth Street parking ramp wrapped up Nov. 30 and the ramp opened Dec. 4.

Q: Who is older, Aunt Jemina or Mrs. Butterworth? And the same for Little Debbie or the Sun Maid.

A: Aunt Jemima is older — the company started in 1889, while Mrs. Butterworth goes back only to 1961. The Sun Maid company started in 1912, while the bakery that would become Little Debbie dates to the Depression years, and the character of Little Debbie was first used in 1960.

Q: Is it true the Cedar Falls School District is getting rid of A, B, C, D letter grades and the pluses and minuses on those grades and replacing them with 1, 2, 3, 4? What is the rationale behind this?

A: It is not true the district is getting rid of letter grades, said spokeswoman Janelle Darst. The district is moving to learning-based grading at the secondary level. Students will still receive grades and a GPA: The elementary level has had learning-based grading for seven years. Darst said learning-based grading refers to the use of learning standards to guide what gets taught and assessed. It allows for improved communication and additional feedback for parents, students and teachers. Learning-based grading practices are designed to enhance student achievement and increase students’ understanding of the specific skills, strategies, knowledge and processes needed to succeed.

Q: Does the Janesville School Superintendent live inside the Janesville School District, and do his children attend the Janesville Schools? If not, isn’t it a conflict for him to try to ask those who do to increase their taxes to pay for improvements to the school if he doesn’t live there?

A: Superintendent B.J. Meaney said his family purchased a lot and built a home in Janesville in 2014. “We have three children that have attended Janesville for the past four school years,” he said. “They are in grades five, three and two.”