I have written several articles dealing with bullying. The isolation and anguish caused by bullying has a cumulative effect. This isolation and destruction can have many devastating consequences- depression, suicide, retaliation. News stories continue to chronicle the young people taking their lives as the result of bullying. Schools are constantly on guard to eliminate retaliation to bullying as we saw at Columbine High School. The evidence that a problem exists is overwhelming. What can be done to help correct this problem?
The faculty and staff at James Martin High School in Arlington, Texas have taken two steps to help the problem. They had presentations by the Rachel’s challenge group to all the classes- Freshmen, Sophomores, Juniors and Seniors. They also had all 3400+ students participate in an eleven minute “Lip Dub.” What effect can these programs have? A look at Rachel's challenge first.
What is Rachel’s Challenge? Rachel’s Challenge is an organization set up to honor and remember Rachel Scott, the first student killed at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999. The mission of Rachel’s Challenge is, “We exist to inspire, equip and empower every person to create a permanent positive culture change in their school, business and community by starting a chain reaction of kindness and compassion.”
Two of Rachel’s quotes play prominent roles in the Challenge program. The first is the theme of Rachel’s Challenge, “You just may start a chain reaction.” Rachel was known for making notes and “writing in unusual places.” On the back of a piece of furniture she drew the outline of her hand and wrote, “"These hands belong to Rachel Joy Scott and will someday touch millions of people's hearts."
From the website, these are the Rachel’s Challenges for schools:
- “Create a safe learning environment for all students by re-establishing civility and delivering proactive antidotes to school violence and bullying.
- Improve academic achievement by engaging students’ hearts, heads and hands in the learning process.
- Provide students with social/emotional education that is both colorblind and culturally relevant.
- Train adults to inspire, equip and empower students to affect permanent positive change.”
The concept of Rachel’s challenge is that nothing changes with a single auditorium appearance or classroom lecture. To affect a change a behavioral change needs to take place. This needs to be done over time. Run properly Rachel’s challenge is done over three years:
- First Year- recognize the purpose of life. This includes a school assembly, a peer training session, and a group event involving community leaders.
- Second Year- help to get students to recognize their own potential and to learn how to create a legacy for themselves. This is new challenges and stories designed to change the school climate and culture.
- Third Year- chain reaction. 6 hours of intense activities aimed at both the students and staff that focus on “development, leadership and team building.”
Rachel’s challenge is based on the theory that if people know each other, understand each other and work together, bullying and other negative activities that result in suicide and events like Columbine will be less likely to occur. It seems to be a good theory.