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Students Bring Kindness to the Hallways

Rachel’s Challenge has returned to Turn of River Middle School and students in Friends of Rachel (FOR) club met on Thursday to discuss practical ways to bring kindness and compassion to the school hallways.

is a school program that honors the legacy of Rachel Joy Scott — a victim of the Columbine High School tragedy and a young woman remembered for her incredible kindness and compassion.

Although many of the sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students gathered in the (TOR) auditorium were not born at the time of Columbine, they learn about it's impact through Rachel’s story.

“The story is really timeless and because of Rachel’s age, they can all relate,” Justin Whatley, presenter at Rachel’s Challenge, told Patch.

On Thursday morning, each grade attended an assembly where they learned about Scott and about Rachel’s Challenge. Afterwards, a group of students known as the Friends of Rachel (FOR) club gathered in the auditorium for further training. As Whatley began the meeting — he asked students to share their reflections about the first assemblies and how Rachel’s Challenge has changed them.

“After the assembly, I got up and looked at a kid I kind of disagree with in my homeroom — we aren’t enemies, but we aren’t exactly friends — and I shook his hand,” Jack Polo said.

Others reflected on the meaning of kindness and the importance of showing it in their daily lives.

“Kindness is not a small thing,” Jasmine Williams said. “It’s a small word that means a lot.”

“Rachel’s Challenge gives you a definition of what it means to be kind,” William Lesoravage said. “You have to live every day like it’s your last, you never know what’s going to happen.”

Many students also noticed how calm and peaceful the hallways of TOR seemed following the assemblies.  Whatley asked the students to name ways that people are mistreated every day at school and came up with a list of many of the usual culprits: insults, isolation, physical and verbal attacks, racial and ethnic discrimination, and cyber bullying.

“Bullying is an attitude, not a person,” Whatley said. “No one ever wakes up and says they’re going to be a bully today. It’s our attitudes towards each other.”

Whatley displayed a quote on the projector screen that got the room talking: “It’s not who you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you.” He asked the students to name the man that said that. After dozens of guesses — including Martin Luther King Jr, George Washington, Barack Obama, and Gandhi — Whatley revealed the name.

“The wise man that said this was Batman,” he laughed. "I told you it was a man!"

Whatley talked about several FOR Club programs that have been effective in schools across the country. New kid programs have given students ideas for welcoming new students to their schools, offering to take them on a tour of the school before the first day, and making sure they have someone to sit with at lunch those first few days.

A letters program — an idea that many students at TOR embraced during the first year of the Rachel’s Challenge program — give students ideas for sending encouraging words to people around the school who need them most. At TOR, several students have written notes to share with classmates to brighten their days. Whatley encouraged students to also use this program to encourage staff.

“It's about picking people around the school who are under-appreciated and making them feel like a rock star. There was a bus driver in New York City, one day she got in her bus and there was a bunch of flowers sitting there. When she got to the school, the FOR club was outside with a sign thanking her — she said that in 27 years of driving a bus, she’d never seen anything like it,” Whatley said. “Now don’t you think that made her day? It made her career.”

Another challenge asks students to combat cyberbullying by spreading positive thoughts online — sending a Facebook message or an email to someone just to wish them a nice day or share a kind word.

“This is an impressionable age — they take these ideas and really embrace them,” Whatley said. “If we can make the world a little safer for our kids, my goal will be accomplished.”

In addition to TOR, has also taken on Rachel’s Challenge for the 2011-2012 school year.

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