CLARKE EMBRACES “RACHEL’S CHALLENGE”
Look for the Best in Others
Choose Positive Influences
Speak Words of Kindness
Start A Chain Reaction
These principles form the basis of Rachel’s Challenge, a nationally acclaimed bullying prevention program inspired by the writings and legacy of Rachel Joy Scott, the first student killed in the 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School.
Each year, LEF awards each school in the LPS system a School Community Grant to undertake activities that will strengthen learning and build community school-wide. For three of the past four school years, Clarke Middle School has dedicated its School Community Grants to building a school culture, based on Rachel’s Challenge, that promotes positive behavior and celebrates and supports Clarke’s remarkable diversity. Clarke has become a community in which students, faculty, and staff put Rachel’s principles into practice every day in intentional and dynamic ways.
Rachel’s Challenge is described as an anti-bullying program, but Clarke principal Anna Monaco stresses that it is much more than that. “The program has been powerful,” she says. “Its core message – that we should focus on what each of us can do for others, on treating people with kindness, and on embracing diversity – has come to define the Clarke community.”
Clarke’s commitment to sharing Rachel Scott’s message and weaving it into the fabric of the school has ensured the program’s lasting impact. Its success demonstrates how a relatively modest investment of LEF funding can help transform an entire school.
To learn more about the impact of Rachel’s Challenge at Clarke, please continue below.
Rachel Joy Scott, the first student killed in the Columbine mass shooting, was known for reaching out to those who were different, who were picked on by others, or who were new at her school. After her death, her family found her journal in which she outlined her personal guiding principles and declared that she intended to change the world. "I have this theory,” she wrote, “that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion, then it will start a chain reaction of the same. People will never know how far a little kindness can go." Rachel’s family established Rachel’s Challenge in her memory to provide programs and strategies to create safer learning environments, combat bullying, and counter feelings of isolation by creating a culture of kindness and compassion. The program has reached 20 million students nationwide.
Under the leadership of then-principal Steven Flynn, Clarke used its 2010-2011 LEF School Community Grant to adopt Rachel’s Challenge as a vehicle to promote pro-social behaviors, build community, and honor the diversity of Clarke’s student body. Under current principal Anna Monaco, Clarke has continued to place Rachel’s Challenge at the heart of Clarke’s community life, dedicating its 2011-2012 and 2013-2014 LEF School Community Grants to building and sustaining the program.
The Rachel’s Challenge principles are introduced and reinforced throughout the school year in grade-level assemblies and in the classroom, where teachers incorporate them into lesson plans and classroom discussions. In the school’s entryway and cafeteria, banners bearing the signature of every student at Clarke declare the community’s dedication to live Rachel’s Challenge. Students train to become peer leaders, and dozens participate in two clubs that are direct outgrowths of the program. The Chain Links Club (named for the “chain reaction of kindness and compassion” that Rachel Scott believed would change the world) undertakes a range of activities that build community and establish connections among diverse students. Linked In, a program based on Best Buddies, creates teams that bring together small groups of typically developing students and developmentally disabled students, building understanding and friendship between students who might otherwise feel they had little in common. In some cases, participation in these activities has led to striking changes in student behavior, bringing out positive leadership qualities in students who had been shy – or even troublemakers.
“Rachel’s Challenge gave us the grounding, the common language, that sets the tone for everything we do in the building,” guidance counselor Tessa Riley explains. “Kids reference it all the time. They bring it up whenever they see something unfair happening.” Students say they feel safe at Clarke, she says. New students have said that the Clarke community has made them feel welcome in a way their previous schools had not.
In 2011-2012, Clarke used its LEF School Community Grant to hire artist-in-residence Tova Speter to help students create a visual expression of their commitment to Rachel’s principles. Almost 150 students worked in design teams to create a mural that spans all four levels of Clarke’s central staircase, and virtually every student in the school contributed to painting it. One landing features a heart created from the handprints of every student and teacher in the school, another a celebration of the 51 countries represented in Clarke’s student body. Colorful gears adorning the walls between landings represent the chain reaction of kindness through which “we all help one another to reach our goals,” according to the student artists’ statement.
In 2013-2014 Clarke is dedicating its LEF School Community Grant to supporting Rachel’s Challenge assemblies and student activities.
Rachel’s Challenge works because “the kids can identify with Rachel,” says Tessa Riley. “They feel an emotional tie to her life and her message. They don’t just say, ‘I believe in Rachel’s Challenge’ – they live it.”
As seventh grader Devanshi Bhangle wrote, “I think that when you tell people what you expect of them, and give them guidelines, they will be nicer and better than if you just tell them, ‘Go be a good student.’ Rachel’s Challenge sort of acts like those guidelines to becoming a better person.”