SEABROOK SAYS: Gaston County Schools are confronting BULLYING head on and are getting positive results. Improvements are clear in relationship building, communications, learning and kindness towards peers! NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?
In August 2012, Gaston County Schools became the first school district on the East Coast to launch district-wide participation in Rachel’s Challenge. This program was made possible by a grant partnership with the United Way of Gaston County. School support personnel including counselors, social workers, nurses, and media specialists experienced a powerful introduction to Rachel Scott’s story at our summer training. Participants were all moved by the incredible vision of this young lady and the impact her life is still having nationwide, and they were excited to bring this message to everyone in Gaston County Schools.
Rachel Scott was a student killed in the Columbine school shooting. Her ideals of kindness and compassion live on through the organization that sponsors the Rachel’s Challenge initiative. Another important message of the Rachel’s Challenge program is the idea that each person can reach millions. In the presentation, a story is shared that Rachel drew her hands on the back of her dresser and wrote that her hands would touch millions, a prophecy that has definitely come true.
From the organization’s website, www.rachelschallenge.org, five tenets for improving school climate include this challenge to students:
- Dream BIG and Believe in myself.
- Be KIND to others.
- Practice POSITIVE gossip with others.
- Show APPRECIATION to those I love.
- Be the ANSWER (not the problem).
In Fall 2012, school presentations were held to introduce the tenets of Rachel’s challenge to all students. These programs were tailored to the appropriate learning levels for elementary, middle, and high school. Students signed a banner, accepting Rachel’s Challenge to have a positive impact on school climate. The message went beyond an anti-bullying message. Students were being asked to complete targeted acts of kindness. The speaker encouraged students and faculty members to consciously do something kind every day and to look for those who might need their friendship. One important example in the program was for students to be inclusive. An example was given to look around at lunch and other social opportunities in the school and to invite someone who may be sitting alone to join your table. In fact, Rachel was known to not only invite someone to her lunch table but to move to sit with someone who may have been sitting alone, and by this initiation to include them in a larger conversation that ultimately facilitated friendships. Following the Rachel’s challenge presentation, many administrators, teachers, and support personnel witnessed this act of kindness happen throughout cafeterias across the entire school district.
At all schools, clubs were founded, Friends of Rachel (FOR) clubs and Kindness clubs. These clubs had students write how they will be a positive link in the school climate chain. These links were put together to decorate school lobbies, libraries, cafeterias, and classrooms. These chains of kindness were a visual reminder to students that they are important and can make a positive impact on the lives of others.
In October 2012, Gaston County Schools partnered with Gastonia Rotary clubs to sponsor a Rachel’s Challenge video contest. Schools videotaped implementation of club activities, programs, and student interviews to present at the Rotary Leadership program. The Highland School of Technology won the competition with a student produced video. The video showed students who had written on their hands that “these hands will touch millions” interspersed with clips of students showing kindness and interviews of students and faculty members answering questions about how Rachel’s Challenge can reduce bullying. In December 2012, high school FOR clubs marched in parades across the district. The student groups had matching Rachel’s Challenge shirts to show unity among all club members at all schools. A bus with banners encouraging people to accept Rachel’s Challenge followed the students marching in the parade.
Three years later, Rachel’s challenge continues to actively improve school climate by promoting positive character traits (respect, responsibility, kindness and courage) and reducing bullying incidents. Schools are more welcoming and Gaston County Schools as a district has seen a subsequent rise in graduation rate and reduction in drop-out rate. Below is a picture of hearts signed by Highland students displayed in the shape of a hand that can touch millions.
Here are some examples of Rachel’s challenge events across Gaston County Schools:
- Belmont Central’s Kindness Club works on character education each month.
- Chapel Grove Elementary school hosts a food drive for families in need during Christmas. The students make handprints and write well wishes and positive messages on the collected bags of food. The counselor supplements this activity with lessons on empathy.
- Pleasant Ridge Elementary completes a Drumming for Kindness event to emphasize how listening to each other is an act of kindness and a great way to build positive relationships. Below is a picture of the students holding their chain reaction.
- Belmont Middle School’s FOR members are the student ambassadors who give tours and mentor new students.
- East Gaston High School FOR club hosts a food drive annually. They also hosted a faculty/student basketball game to raise money to help some students afford basketball camp.
- The Highland School of Technology FOR partners with the Students Against Violence Everywhere (SAVE) to host a rally on conflict resolution, positive decision-making, and safety (no texting and driving). Students write “I Believe” statements on a banner that is displayed. Below is a picture of hearts signed by Highland students displayed in the shape of a hand that can touch millions.
- South Point High School incorporates Rachel’s Challenge with Project Unify to bring together students with disabilities with other students and promote acceptance of diverse populations.
Dr. Melissa Balknight
Assistant Superintendent for Student Support Services Gaston County Schools