Kent schools promoting tolerance and acceptance with Rachel's Challenge

By Jeremy Nobile | Staff Writer Published:

Cheyenne Krieger doesn't want to see any more bullying Kent schools.

Krieger, a senior at Theodore Roosevelt High School, is among 100 students between the middle and high school who have accepted Rachel's Challenge to promote tolerance and acceptance not only in schools, but in the community at large.

Rachel's Challenge is a series of student-empowering programs named after Rachel Joy Scott -- a 17-year-old student who was the first victim of the Columbine High School massacre of 1999 in Colorado -- who sought to eliminate bullying and intolerance of all people. The corresponding campaign seeks to honor her legacy of advocacy.

In accepting the challenge, groups called "Friends of Rachel" have been formed in Stanton Middle School and Theodore Roosevelt High School with the overall purpose of promoting Rachel's message of compassion through random acts of kindness and the promotion of acceptance.

"Both our schools have positive cultures and lots of extra-curricular activities, but the hope is to maintain that culture and build on it," said Aaron Hido, dean of students at Stanton. "We want to continue to inspire our students to think of others, to make good decisions and to reach out to those who may be lonely or on the fringe."

An assembly from 7 to 8 p.m. Tuesday in the Stanton Middle School "auditeria" will feature a speaker who will share Rachel's story, followed by a series of exercises instructing Kent teens on how to start the chain reaction of tolerance and compassion among fellow students. Specific efforts to realize that mission will materialize then.

Megan Lavins, a Roosevelt senior, and Ming Sho Subba, a Stanton eighth-grader, have accepted the challenge as well.

"I think this is awesome for Kent schools," Megan said. "This will help create leaders who can make sure people are being included and not being hurt."

Ming Sho said he's seen firsthand how a welcoming demeanor can help a student who might be feeling ostracized.

"Like if there's new students coming in, you don't want them to feel shy," he said, noting how his friends invited a couple of new students to sit with them at the lunch table this year so they "don't feel lonely."

"The first and second day they were all quiet, but now they're talking to everybody," he said.

It's those little things, Cheyenne said, that can make a big difference in a child's life and in promoting feelings of acceptance. Something as simple as reassuring a classmate who tripped in the halls that it happens to everyone can make a student struggling with feelings of fear and isolation cope.

"Just learning to help comfort someone can make a huge difference," she said.

The other intent, she said, is to remind classmates that "bullying isn't cool."

Such efforts to promote inclusion and tone down bullying can have lasting positive impacts on children, said school counselor Carla Frey.

"This is all about promoting the positive side of things," she said. "Instead of just saying don't bully, don't bully, it's, 'Let's be nice and do things for one another.' It creates a culture of positivity."

But students and faculty believe Rachel's mission can extend well beyond the classroom, which is why all are invited to Tuesday's event -- especially parents, who are encouraged to share the message with their children. The goal is to eventually share the same initiative with elementary students and instill the same values with the entire Kent community.

"And the biggest message here is everybody is valuable," said Patricia Finley, student activities coordinator at Stanton. "If this is how we behave as a community, how can we go wrong? We need to send a positive message in everything we do, not just at school, but in work and at play."

"If the parents come to the same assembly their children here, they can really continue the discussion at home and take that message outside our school and begin to apply it in their homes and neighborhoods," Hido said.

Contact this reporter at 330-298-1126 or jnobile@recordpub.com

Facebook: Jeremy Nobile, Record-Courier

Twitter: @jnobile_RPC

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