Theories of kindness and compassion were presented to students, parents and members of the community last week as part of Wallenpaupack School District's attempt at helping people look for the best in others.
From the diaries of Rachel Joy Scott, the first victim of the 1999 Columbine School shooting in Colorado, millions of students have learned of Scott's concept that if people can go out of their way to help others, they can start a chain reaction of the same behavior.
As part of "Rachel's Challenge," a program to educate and inform people of Rachel's ideas of kindness, administers selected 40 middle school and 60 high school students to participate in a training program to establish a Friends of Rachel's Club so her theories will live on in the school. Assistant Superintendent Dr. Joann Hudak said what the kids participated in wasn't a, "one-shot deal."
The speaker at the seminars, Jim Kennedy told the students that the club's goal isn't easy as they will be working to, "change a culture." If they worked together though, he said the students could make a huge difference in their school. More than a service club, he said the club is a way of life, a commitment to being a leader.
As part of a community training program, where parents and members of the public learned more about the program, Kennedy said if people were to flood the school with kindness and compassion, then disrespect and bullying would have a hard time existing.
From Rachel's life and writings, five challenges have been created, all of which were presented at the programs. Firstly, Kennedy explained that people should look for the best in others and eliminate any prejudice. He pointed out, that when people judge others, they may be doing so when the person is having a bad day and when looking for the worse, that is what will be found.
To dream, was the program's second challenge. Kennedy asked, "How many of us have enough trust, strength and faith to believe that we can do the impossible?" He said people should write their dreams down, which will help them see their goals.
The third challenge is for people to choose positive influences while also being a positive role model to others. Choices made today, Kennedy said, will determine who people become tomorrow.
Names can be weapons because words hurt, Kennedy said. The fourth challenge, he explained is that people need to speak with kindness. Rachel, he said, knew how she wanted to be treated and so she treated everyone the same way, which is the point of the fourth challenge. For the final challenge, everyone closed their eyes and imagined that the people, who meant the most to them, were present. Within three days, Kennedy instructed everyone to tell the loved ones how much they cared for them.
Page 2 of 2 - As part of the student training program, students listed a number of things that need to happen in order for change to occur. Taking their time to discuss the topics, gradually hands went up, as the students gave suggestions that included more students' involvement.
At lunch, it was noted that the kids tend to sit with the same people. One student suggested a mentorship program, where the upperclassmen go to the middle school to make a connection. The student explained that going into the freshman year can be scary and having that connection could be comforting for the freshmen.
A student said she felt staff shouldn't be as involved. She acknowledged that supervision is needed, but if the students did more, then they may connect more, instead it's like their parents are watching them.
After seeing the program a few years ago, a junior at Western Wayne, Alexandria Kuplack helped with the program, even making it her senior project. Kuplack was in the sixth grade when the Columbine shootings occurred, but today seeing the presentations and being involved she said it has been life changing.
Hudak said Rachel's Challenge is a way of changing how things are done. As an educator, she admitted that she has been worried about what's happening with kids and their mental health. Rachel's Challenge, she said, is a program that can bring hope and people together and even make the world a better place.
The program was also held at Wayne Highlands, Western Wayne and Forest City Regional School Districts, and evening community meetings were held.
For more information about Rachel's Challenge, visit www.myrachelschallenge.org.