When the Newton, Kansas school district was looking for ideas about how to spend charitable funds donated by the local Rotary Club, one school principal and CPI Certified Instructor offered a great suggestion.
A golf tournament sponsored by the Club had brought in hefty contributions, and now the district was looking for the best way to spend the money. That’s when Jason Chalashtari, principal of the district’s Walton Rural Life Center school, decided to speak up.
“All kinds of ideas were suggested, from school books to Chromebooks to iPads to playground equipment. So I sent an email about choosing something that could possibly benefit every student and school, like a bullying reduction program. The superintendent thought that was a good idea, and that’s how I got involved,” said Mr. Chalashtari. “As with our CPI program, this program has the potential to limit the amount of negative interactions and increase respect and participation.”
The bullying reduction program selected by the district after Mr. Chalashtari’s recommendation is called Rachel’s Challenge
. The program is based on the life and work of Rachel Joy Scott, the first victim of the Columbine school shootings in 1999.
Rachel’s Challenge was founded by Darrell and Sandy Scott after they realized their daughter’s writing and artwork had the power to inspire students worldwide. According to the website, the program is designed to draw students together, break down barriers, and influence students to make changes through participation in activities relevant to bullying, painful life experiences, and emotional expression.
Rachel’s Challenge is based on five key principles:
- look for the best in others
- dream big
- choose positive influences
- speak with kindness
- start a chain reaction
The program identifies group leaders who then go on to form clubs in their schools. Together, these groups lead activities designed to inspire students to replace acts of aggression and violence with acts of kindness and compassion.
Rachel’s Challenge at Newton – Phase Two
Newton schools first presented Rachel’s Challenge to its high school students in the fall of 2014. Based on their enthusiasm and success implementing the program, the district followed up with a second presentation to its middle school students the evening of November 19th. The event was a big success, with over 500 students and 100 community members in attendance.
Once students have seen the Rachel’s Challenge presentation they can attend FOR, or Friends of Rachel training. “This training presents strategies and activities that clubs can use throughout the year, so it has sustainability built-in,” notes Mr. Chalashtari. Clubs meet every two weeks during the school year and are supported by the school’s administrators and teachers.
During the training, instructors put kids in small groups and have them discuss the things they’d like to see changed in their schools. According to Mr. Chalashtari, one theme that kept bubbling to the surface was how new kids are treated.
“We’re a pretty large district for Kansas. We’ve got about 1,200 students in our high school, with a lot of new students coming in during the year. So one of the activities the clubs developed was to have a formal welcome process for new students. So that’s an example of how the students get an idea and run with it,” he explains.
Photo: Wavebreak / iStock / iStock
Another example of a FOR club activity the principal is excited about is the idea of a Day of Acceptance. “This is when the FOR club decorates lockers and puts up banners with messages of acceptance and inclusion for all students,” said Mr. Chalashtari. “Kids could also have an opportunity to sign a no-bullying pledge before they leave school that day.”
Expanding the Rachel’s Challenge Program at Newton Schools
The interest and participation in the program among high school and middle school students has Mr. Chalashtari excited to expand the program. “We’re hoping to continue on with the Rotary Club golf tournament benefit and expand the program. We’ve had high school kids go through the program, and now our 7th
grade, what we call our middle school, has been through the presentation. And so our next progression is to bring the program in for our 5th
graders next year,” he said. “We’re excited to see where it goes.”
For more great information on curbing bullying at your school, check out:
What to Say to Stop Someone From Bullying
Teach Kids These 3 Ways to Stop Bullying
Practice What You Preach: Stop Bullying for Kids AND Adults!