Were you ever bullied as a high school student? Was it ever hard for you to engage socially?
Students at Wellington High School spent this year reaching out to classmates who may have experienced those dilemmas, forming a Friends of Rachel club.
It is named for Rachel Scott, a 16-year-old Columbine High School sophomore who was the first student killed in the 1999 massacre on the campus.
In the years since, Rachel’s Challenge assemblies and Friends of Rachel clubs have popped up at schools across the country. Both encourage students to stamp out bullying and work to improve the lives of others, especially peers who may be having a difficult time in social situations.
WHS held its first Rachel’s Challenge assembly in December. The club has about 15 members so far, some volunteers and others chosen with help from teachers.
“In April, we held a ‘Day Without Hate’ where we had challenges around the school where people had to do good deeds in the halls like say good morning or give a high five,” said junior Ezra Ohly. “There was an announcement over the loud speakers for each one telling us what the next challenge was.”
“It was such a positive day,” she said. “We didn’t realize how many kids would get involved or the impact it would have. The Rachel’s Challenge assembly really raised awareness around the school. Students like Ava Rowland and Taylor Hardwick put a lot of effort into making that assembly happen.”
Fellow junior Abbey Drake said seemingly small initiatives like giving out candy and decorating a mirror with positive messages can have a bigger impact that you’d expect.
“We’d hand out chocolate hugs and kisses in the morning,” she said. “They’d say things like, ‘Have a good morning’ or ‘Enjoy your day’ on them. Something like that seems small but it can start a chain reaction of positive thoughts on a day when someone might wake up in a bad mood. It doesn’t take much to snap out of a bad day sometimes.”
Club members plan to expand the scope of “A Day Without Hate” and hold a school-wide rally to recruit new members starting in the fall.
“With more time to plan things out between the summer and next year, we want to plan something for every month,” Drake said. “It could be more of a project every month but a bigger thing at least every quarter. The rally probably won’t be another Rachel’s Challenge assembly. We want to find an original speaker.”
Both students said principal Tina Drake has worked hard to curb bullying.
“I was home-schooled my whole life before coming here,” said Ohly. “When I got to this school as a freshman, I heard all the time that people just needed to have ‘thicker skin’ when being bullied. Why not address the bullying? Maybe that bully is dealing with something in their life too. My sophomore year when Mrs. Drake took over was very different. It seemed like it wasn’t about just dealing with the bullying anymore.”
The club constructed a “kindness wall” that stayed up throughout the year. Boxes were placed in different areas of the school where students could post notes paying a compliment or other positive message. Ohly, Drake, and other club members would review the notes and place them on the wall.
“The wall was filled so fast,” said Drake. “It fell down at one point from too many things being on it.”
“We had a quote on the wall, ‘Throw kindness like confetti.’ That really got a lot of people involved,” said Ohly.
It can be hard to speak out when you see your friends being bullies. Once that first step it taken, however, the rest of the conversation tends to be much easier.
“Negativity is much easier to feed off of than positivity,” Ohly said. “It’s hard to step away from that pattern. If you have an idea or thought that goes against the group you don’t want to take that risk and say something a lot of times.”
“Someone said when they saw their name on the kindness wall it made their day,” Drake said. “That’s so cool to hear that. That makes my day. Thinking that something I did might’ve helped another person like that is very exciting.”
Drake and Ohly don’t think the positive strides made at WHS should be written off as an everyday anty-bullying campaign.
They say the club will be continue to be proactive against any negativity among students instead of waiting for a situation to arise and then reacting to it.
“There’s something extraordinary about our school,” said Ohly. “We’ve grown here. People have chosen positivity. The ones who stepped out of the pattern have started something good.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.