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A message of hope

Rachel’s Challenge comes to Marshalltown schools as part of anti-bullying effort

August 26, 2012
By DAVID ALEXANDER - Staff Writer (dalexander@timesrepublican.com) , Times-Republican

In 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold stalked the halls of Columbine High School, randomly and methodically shooting and killing 13 people and injuring another 21. The gruesome massacre left a scar on the American psyche.

They killed Rachel Scott first.

From the ashes of that tragedy, sprung a message of hope. Not long after her death, Rachel's family began spreading the 17-year-old Columbine student's message of kindness, focusing not on her horrific death, but instead on her life. They took Rachel's credo on the road, spreading it to anyone who would listen, challenging others to live by her virtues.

Article Photos

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
Rachel Scott, shown here, was the first victim in the 1999 Columbine Massacre. Her family started a non-profit group to spread Rachel’s ideals in hopes of bringing her message hope to people of all walks of life. Rachel’s Challenge will come to Marshalltown Thursday with events at Marshalltown Middle and High Schools and another community event.

Nearly 13 years later, as part of the Not In Our Town community effort to combat bullying, Rachel's Challenge has come to Marshalltown. The program will make its way to Marshalltown Thursday with 1-hour assemblies at Marshalltown Middle and High Schools and another at the MHS/Community Auditorium intended for the entire community.

Meanwhile, the middle school will feature Rachel's Impact, a more age-appropriate version of Rachel's Challenge. High school students, in addition to experiencing the Rachel's Challenge assembly, will be able to participate in an interactive training titled Friends of Rachel aimed to teach youth how to implement the ideas they learn from the assembly.

"We hope they get daily tools that they can use to reach out to the people around them," said Karissa McCoy, communications coordinator for Rachel's Challenge. "These are tangible things kids can do on a daily basis."

Fact Box

If you go

WHAT: Rachel's Challenge Community Assembly

WHEN: 7 p.m. Aug. 30

WHERE: MHS/Community Auditorium

WHO: The public is invited

WHAT: Not In Our Town Anti-Bullying Rally and Lunch

WHEN: Noon on Aug. 30

WHAT: Free pork burger lunch and short program about the Not In Our Town Marshalltown Project

WHERE: Marshall County Courthouse lawn. Rain location is the Coliseum.

WHO: The public is invited. Lunch will be provided to the first 500 people to arrive. Wear your orange Not In Our Town T-shirt.

McCoy said the programs relay Rachel's five steps to fostering acceptance: look for the best in others, dream big, choose positive influences, speak with kindness and start your own chain reaction.

A message of change

Although not a victim of bullying herself, Rachel's mantras play into the notion that creating a culture accepting of all people is one where violence has difficulty flourishing.

Matt Tullis, equity director for Marshalltown Community School District, said Rachel's Challenge has gained so much traction over the years that its reputation precedes it. Everyone in the district agrees that the program is something that would benefit Marshalltown schools.

In particular, he said, school staff want to encourage high schoolers to start a Friends of Rachel club at MHS and reach out to younger kids to teach them about the pitfalls of bullying. It's all about breeding tolerance and understanding.

"We need to be open to respecting everyone and looking at everyone's point of view," Tullis said.

He and others want Rachel's message to become part of the culture in Marshalltown schools-a lasting and transcendent ideal that strengthens the bedrock of unity.

Rachel's Challenge often acts as a catalyst for action. And the school district is looking for exactly that sort of response, he said.

"People leave these events wanting to change if they need to," Tullis said. "This is what makes us different."

Leigh Bauder, of Marshalltown, said she became involved with anti-bullying efforts in 2005 when a former friend of her daughter began bullying her.

Back then, she said the school was little more than cavalier about the situation, but that it has made strides in recent years. While the committee she was on worked hard to quash preconceived notions surrounding bullying, she said she regrets that those anti-bullying efforts didn't persist.

She called Rachel Scott one of her inspirations.

One girl's story

When Nicole Leyen was in fifth grade, a falling out with a friend escalated to that former friend habitually making her disdain for Nicole known. The behavior continued well into high school.

"We were best friends. We were inseparable," she said of the girl. "She knew how to get to me, how to make me upset."

The incident is what prompted her mother, Leigh Bauder, to become involved in an anti-bullying campaign.

Now 17, Nicole puts her finger on how she delineates between bullying and a simple outpouring of negative emotion. It's the routine-bullies target specific people and keep at them, wearing them down until there is little left of their self-esteem.

Not all bullying is overt, she said. Sometimes, it can be a snarky comment or an eye roll, but one thing she is certain of: it's habitual, almost like a compulsion. And while the administration at her school has worked hard since she was in fifth grade to snuff out the flames of bullying, it still exists.

"Anything could make or break someone's day," she said. "Everything you say and do can impact a person it could ruin someone's day and ruin someone's life."

Leyen said Rachel's Challenge will act as a refresher as to how to treat people. No school is immune to the types of tragedy that took place that grim day in Colorado.

She compared Rachel's Challenge and other anti-bullying efforts like it to DARE. It needs to be in the curriculum, she said.

"It helps show people the long-term effects their words have," Leyen said. "It's a great thing for now, but it needs to continue."

The anti-bullying movement

Because of the Not In Out Town Marshalltown Project, the school district did not incur expenses to bring Rachel's Challenge to Marshalltown. It is funded by generous donations by local businesses that support the anti-bullying movement.

To show support for the Not In Our Town campaign, proponents of the effort will also spearhead a noon-hour rally at the courthouse lawn the same day as Rachel's Challenge. Lunch will be provided for 500 people. Organizers are asking rally goers to wear their orange Not In Our Town T-shirts.

The gathering is intended to be a demonstration of support to the students participating in Rachel's Challenge.

Tullis said incidents of bullying in the schools have been trending upward slightly, especially instances of cyber-bullying.

"We see these types of issues going down as low as third or fourth grade," he said.

However, he said, what makes Marshalltown unique is that it is being proactive. From his discussions with the Not In Our Town officials, he said, Marshalltown is one of the few towns that has enacted this program without a tragedy prompting it.

Anti-bullying efforts are a national trend, Tullis said, and Marshalltown is not so different from any other community.

Rachel's Challenge is just the beginning, he said.

"We will have kids motivated to carry that message of kindness and compassion," he said. "I don't see how this could go wrong."

 
 

 

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