- Make graduation cards for eight-graders.
- Give out free hugs.
- Hand out notes of kindness to random people on campus.
- Paint a mural.
Those were just some of the suggestions students at Roosevelt Middle School came up with to make theirs a kinder campus.
The suggestions, written on Post-it notes and pasted up in the school library, were part of an exercise the students went through recently as part of Rachel’s Challenge, an international program aimed at making schools safer, where bullying and violence are replaced with kindness and respect and where students feel more connected to their school.
Rachel’s Challenge gets its name from Rachel Joy Scott, the first person killed in the Columbine High School shooting of April 20, 1999.
Rachel’s father, Darrell Scott, created Rachel’s Challenge to continue the work Rachel started with simple acts of kindness, which her classmates said had a profound impact on their lives, according to the program’s website, rachelschallenge.org.
Roosevelt Middle School is among about 23 schools in San Diego County that have signed up for the three-year program, said Rachel’s Challenge Presenter Fred Lynch. The goal is to get the program in about 40 schools in the college.
Although curbing aggressive behavior and bullying is the aim of the program, “We hardly every use the word bully,” Lynch said.
“Our whole goal is pro-compassion, pro- caring,” Lynch said. “It’s really cool to be kind. That’s our model, making it cool to be kind.”
The program started at Roosevelt with a November rally at the school led by Lynch.
Subsequently, the school formed a Friends of Rachel Club, where about 50 students meet monthly to come up with ideas for promoting kindness on and off campus.
The Post-it notes were part of that.
“It’s really creating a positive culture on our campus,” Roosevelt Principal Elise Ochenduszko said.
“Middle school is really a challenging time for children,”Ochenduszko said. Emotions run high, and “sometimes we see that coming out with kids being mean to each other.”
With the program in place for little more than a month at Roosevelt, there aren’t any hard numbers on how well it’s working.
“I certainly notice more kids wanting to take ownership of the school,” Ochenduszko said.
A key part of the program is getting kids to feel connected with each other, with their teachers, and with their school, Lynch said.
Among other things, teachers were trained to bring Rachel’s Challenge into their classrooms with short, simple lessons by connecting with their students. They do that by talking about things like the scariest movie they’ve seen, their favorite pizza topping, their most embarrassing moment, and asking the students to do the same.
“What it really builds over a period of time is this net of connective-ness,” Lynch said.
For an upcoming “Challenge Day,” students will spend six hours combining physical activities with sessions designed to get to know each other, Lynch said.
“All the kids are blown away by how many kids are like them,” Lynch said.
The idea is, that when students learn about each other, they realize they’re more alike than different and they are more likely to treat each other with respect.
“Not only do the kids feel safer, but we see the grades increase, we see the fighting decrease,” Lynch said. “Our ultimate wish is to create safer, more connected schools.”