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Monday, Aug. 29, 2016

Kelly students challenged to create a better school

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Middle and High School students sign the
BENTON -- Students who are in middle or high school at Thomas W. Kelly will have a lasting reminder of the "Rachel's Challenge" presentation they participated in Monday to give them a bit of encouragement to think of others.

At the end of each presentation, students had the opportunity to sign a banner, signaling they accepted the challenge they had just heard. That banner will be hung in a prominent place at the school.

"It will serve as encouragement, and a reminder," said Hannah Nelson, speaker for the program.

Rachel's Challenge is a school assembly and training program that began from the 1999 tragedy at Columbine High School. It is committed to the message of Rachel Scott, the first student killed, to start a chain reaction of kindness and compassion. Rachel was described as a "remarkable young lady," who believed her life would have an impact on the world.

The high school's student council hosted the event, although all of the clubs pitched in money to help pay for it, said Rae Anne Alpers, student council advisor.

Hannah Nelson addresses the students at a training session.
"We first saw the program at StuCo State in March," Alpers said. "My students said immediately 'we have to get this program at our school.'"

Lena Gray, the student council president, highlighted the need. "We don't have any real problems, but we just want people to remember to be kind and not stuck up," she said. "If we do get Rachel's Challenge started, I think we could change things."

Although not designed to scare students, the program also brought school violence into perspective. "It can happen anywhere," Nelson said.

Students took that to heart, too. "I learned you need to watch what you say to people," said sophomore Meredith Grissom. "You wouldn't want (something mean) to be the last thing they heard."

There were three sessions to tell people about Rachel and the lives she touched: one for high school students, one for middle school students and one for the community later Monday evening.

Only about 20 people attended the community session. However, they were all "very interested," Alpers said.

The presentations create a climate change, which lasts about a week, Nelson said.

But, student and faculty leaders can bring on a culture change. "That keeps it growing, keeps it spreading, keeps them excited," Nelson said. "This is the chance for me to pass the baton to you guys -- you are going to be responsible for keeping this going."

About 60 pre-selected students -- half from the middle school and half from the high school -- attended an additional 45-minute training session, in addition to some extra students who wanted to come.

Although the students work in a team with adults to combat bullying and create positive changes, the children are key, Alpers said, because they have more of an effect on their peers than teachers.

During the training session, participants were asked what changes they wanted to make.

Gray wondered how much would change, "if people will start showing goodness to others."

Nelson challenged the students to form a group to meet these needs, such as be kind and inviting to new students and to see through people, not just take their words for truth. She urged them to form a "Friends of Rachel" group and meet on Tuesdays-- as those who belong to the program do -- to spread that compassion.

Not only will the signed banner help remind students, but additional posters or short audio or video commercials produced by students can show that atmosphere of kindness and respect.

"Take ownership," Nelson said. "You can impact your school, the community and even the world."

Grissom agreed with that. "You can change people's lives, you can change the world like Rachel," she said. Although she already tries to live by that challenge, the presentation and training reinforced that and seeing the banner will remind her to do random acts of kindness for others, Grissom said.

Gray, who is a senior, said she hopes the challenge stays at the school after she graduates. "I'll let the sophomores and juniors take more charge, because then they can carry it on next year," she said. "But you can be nice. It just takes a few minutes to say hello to someone in the hallway."

For more on Rachel's Challenge, go to rachelschallenge.com.