Posted by: TokenWife | October 26, 2009

Students accept Rachel’s Challenge to end bullying

Original article on: Florida Catholic

St. John Vianney School students sign up for Rachel’s Challenge, a national program based upon the life and writings of a 15–year–old girl, Rachel Joy Scott, the first person killed by two classmates at Columbine High School in 1999.

 

ORLANDO | The Oct. 16 kickoff presentation at St. John Vianney Catholic School for an anti-bullying program named for a Columbine shooting victim was at times sobering as well as humorous.

The Rachel’s Challenge program presented to middle school students emphasized four challenges: Treat others the way you want to be treated, dream big and believe in yourself, appreciate everyone, and choose positive words that build others up. Afterward, 200 students signed a banner indicating their willingness to actively promote changes in their school.

“Every school has bullying,” said Vice Principal Vicki Kuethe. “Unfortunately, no school is immune from cliques, lack of tolerance and acceptance. We want to teach our students how to be assertive and also to not participate in these kinds of activities.”

Rachel’s Challenge is a national program based upon the life and writings of a 15-year-old girl, Rachel Joy Scott, the first person killed by two classmates at Columbine High School in 1999. After her death, her family founded a nonprofit organization in her memory to promote a culture of compassion and kindness – ideals their daughter held dear.

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The presentation included news footage from the day of the Columbine shooting, photos of Rachel, as well as testimonials from friends and family designed to have an emotional impact, as well as present the principles that form the basis for positive change.

“I thought the presentation was inspiring and touching, seeing someone just like me, so full of potential,” said eighth-grade student Gretchen Gutierrez. “It makes me think that we need to look at the big picture, step back, and realize what is really important in life, like friends and family, and not stress the insignificant things.”

In the video presentation, Rachel’s brother talked about the fight he had with his sister on the way to school the day she died, and how he learned the importance of choosing words carefully. The brother’s story made a big impact on seventh-grader Emily Ternent who said, “It was the last thing he ever said to her (Rachel). It makes you realize that you have to think about what you say before you say it. Some things you cannot do over.”

Following the presentation, 50 students attended a training session to teach them how to implement the program with students in the younger grades, as well as their peers. The elementary school program does not focus on the Columbine incident and, in fact, it is not referred to at all. The themes from Rachel’s Challenge will continue across the curriculum and throughout the school year.

In her essay titled “My Ethics, My Codes of Life,” Rachel wrote, “I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion that it will start a chain reaction of the same. People will never know how far a little kindness can go”.

Integral to the Rachel’s Challenge program is starting a “chain reaction of kindness and compassion.” The students at St. John Vianney will make a visual chain as a reminder of the simple, deliberate acts of kindness that the program inspires. A paper link is added each time a student or teacher sees another student or teacher in a kind act. The act is recorded on the link so that by the end of the year, the connected can encircle the school.

Along with showing compassion and kindness in the school, there is a community service component to the program as well. The Chick-Fil-A store at 7415 S. Orange Blossom Trail in Orlando has partnered with St. John Vianney Parish to promote a canned food drive to help supply a food pantry. Patrons will be able to fill out a link in the chain that will be added to the chain being made at the school.

The Rachel’s Challenge program was brought to St. John Vianney by Franciscan Sister Elizabeth Murphy, principal, who saw a banner at Howard Middle School and decided to bring the program to her school as an additional tool for its ongoing anti-bullying efforts.

“My hope (for the students) is that this will expand into their homes, the community and play fields, so that the chain can continue the compassion and kindness, that we build up rather than tear down,” Sister Murphy said.

Father Paul Henry, pastor of St. John Vianney Parish, said Rachel’s story is beautiful and “gives flesh and blood to the teachings of Christ.

“All of her principles were Christ-like – obviously influenced by her faith – to promote a community of love,” he said.

On the back of her dresser, Rachel traced her hand and wrote “This is the hand of Rachel Joy Scott and one day it will touch millions of people’s lives.” Indeed, by the end of this year, the Rachel’s Challenge program will have been presented live to about 14 million people.

JENNIFER POWERS | FLORIDA CATHOLIC CORRESPONDENT

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