After Mexico Middle School students saw the presentation from Rachel's Challenge, a national organization which encourages the creation of safer learning environments, they organized a group named Friends of Rachel to promote kindness in their school.
The Rachel's Challenge program, based on the writings and beliefs of Rachel Scott who was the first student killed in the mass shooting at Columbine High School in 1999, was presented in October. Locally, the Griffin Foundation provided the funding for the Challenge program to visit MMS and Mexico High School.
Since the fall, the Friends of Rachel group members at MMS have organized activities which spread the message of the national organization. "Our students have a lot of love to share, and this gives them a great opportunity to do that," Julie Lower, counselor, said. "It's comforting to see Rachel Scott's legacy of kindness and compassion live on, even years after her tragic death at Columbine."
Some of the positive activities inspired by the program also are presented through the PAWS advisory groups, such as discussions and information about bullying. Lower created a PowerPoint for teachers to use in the small groups. "We did a lesson on bystanders that included sports analogies to try to get kids who witness bullying to make it stop or at least not reinforce it," Lower said. "We try to help our students understand that the best prevention of school violence is being kind and respectful to others at all times."
Another activity included the burning of a candle as an analogy that just as the candle needed oxygen to provide fuel for the flame, participating in bullying as a bystander provides fuel to bullies.
The PAWS group of Linda Malott decided they wanted to make a difference after the presentation by cutting out hearts and writing positive messages on them. "The students placed the hearts in random lockers throughout the school, and students were excited to receive the messages," Malott said. "I think Rachel's message made a huge impact. Middle school students tend to focus more on themselves than others, so I think it is very important to teach compassion. The motto 'I 'd rather be in this world making a difference than just being in it' is what I try to instill in my students."
The Friends of Rachel group members generally meet monthly to spread their acts of kindness. A daily project of the members is to put "Happy Birthday" signs on student lockers. Other activities included writing letters of appreciation to the school custodians, cafeteria workers and bus drivers.
There are 30 students in the Friends of Rachel group, from all three grades at MMS. Lower and fellow counselor Darlene Shopher are the sponsors. "I enjoy being the sponsor because our students really want to do nice things for people, and have brainstormed an awesome list of ideas," Shopher said. "The students also have found that doing nice things makes them feel good about themselves while they help others."
Page 2 of 2 - The positive actions of the students and staff members have been noticed.
"Many of our new students report that students and teachers here really care compared to the schools they come from," Shopher said. "That makes me very proud of our students and teachers."
Principal Deb Hill Haag also is pleased to have the group at MMS. "When a program comes into a school you hope students can take in the information and use it to help make them better persons," she said. "These students have gone above and beyond to 'start a chain reaction' by internalizing the message of Rachel with the sole purpose of making the world a better place. It's exciting to see young people thinking of others first."
While the acts of kindness and lessons on bullying may not completely change the atmosphere, the goal of both the local Friends of Rachel and the international Rachel's Challenge remain the same: 'to allay feelings of isolation and despair by creating a culture of kindness and compassion.'"