Macon County’s School System is teaming up with the Sheriff’s Office to bring a national anti-bullying program to students throughout the district in attempt to change the overall culture of the schools. The program will be held at Macon Middle School and Franklin High School on February 15.
Rachel’s Challenge is a program geared toward establishing a safe learning environment for all students by teaching positive solutions to violence and bullying situations. The program works to engage students through a presentation about Rachel Scott, who was the first of 13 students killed by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold during the Columbine High School shootings in April of 1999.
Immediately after the Columbine tragedy, Rachel’s father Darrell began traveling around the nation to speak to students and uses writings and drawings from Rachel’s many diaries to illustrate the need for a kinder, more compassionate nation. Today, Darrell’s efforts have grown to include 30 other speakers who each honor Rachel’s life by reaching out to student’s with Rachel’s simple but profound message. The program has been given at schools and businesses in all 50 states and six countries around the world.
The program will be brought to Macon County students as a combined effort between the Macon County Sheriff’s Office and Macon County School System. Both the School Board and the Sheriff’s Office will split the cost of the program at $5,845.00.
Marci Holland, Macon County School’s Student Services Coordinator, first found out about Rachel’s Challenge after her niece went through the program. According to Holland, her niece was so impacted by the program, it inspired Holland to do research and the program at which point she discovered that it had been presented in various schools within in NC and thousands across the nation. “The program has incorporated the attributes of kindness and compassion that Rachel practiced in her everyday life into a bullying and school violence prevention program,” said Holland of what she found out about Rachel’s Challenge. “As I further researched the program, I discovered that the content is very relevant and felt it could benefit each and every middle and high school-aged student in our county. I began speaking with my supervisor and with the superintendent and principals to garner support for bringing the program to Macon County.”
According to Superintendent Dr. Dan Brigman, the Rachel’s Challenge program falls in line with the school districts anti-bullying objectives. “We are very fortunate to have this opportunity to partner with the Sheriff's Office to make Rachel’s Challenge a reality for our students,” said Dr. Brigman.
“You always wonder how students will react to and learn from programs,” said Sheriff Holland. “The thing that jumped out at me about Rachel's Challenge is the fact that this program was born out of a terrible tragedy and that it exemplifies the values and kindness of one of the victims of that tragedy.”
According to Holland, leaders in the school system were instantly onboard to bring such a remarkable program to Macon County students. “The school leadership all felt that the program would be worthwhile and planning for implementation began,” said Holland.
The mission of Rachel’s Challenge is “to inspire, equip and empower every person to create a permanent positive culture change in their school, business and community by starting a chain reaction of kindness and compassion.”
The program works to change the way students think about each other and works toward instilling three objectives within schools. The objectives include:
• Create a safe learning environment for all students by re-establishing civility and delivering proactive antidotes to school violence and bullying.
• Improve academic achievement by engaging students’ hearts, heads and hands in the learning process.
• Provide students with social/emotional education that is both colorblind and culturally relevant.
• Train adults to inspire, equip and empower students to affect permanent positive change.
“My hope is that Rachel’s Challenge will help promote a safe learning environment for all of our students and that it will help to establish a culture of civility and kindness in our schools,” said Holland. “I also hope that the program will help to prevent school violence and bullying.
An important part of the program is a total buy-in—all the way from administration to faculty to students. I believe that, if we can incorporate the components of this program into our daily school routines-including the classroom, cafeteria and after-school activities (such as sports), I am confident we can accomplish a positive change to the complete school environment and that the potential benefits of the program are without limit,” concluded Holland.
“I hope that it will be an encouragement for how students treat others,” said Sheriff Robert Holland. “Also the hope that, in the bigger picture, it will have an impact on bullying and school violence.”
Sheriff Holland noted that programs like Rachel’s Challenge are so beneficial because they teach children how to react to situations that arise from bullying and violent. He stated that circumstances involving bullying in high school have shown a connection to crimes rates later in life. “I think there can be a correlation– there certainly was in the case of the Columbine shootings,” said Sheriff Holland. “We have had incidents in our schools where things could have easily escalated, according to statements made by the students being bullied.”
Two separate school-wide assemblies will be held on February 15—one at Macon Middle School at 9:15am and another at Franklin High School at 1:45pm. Students from Nantahala, Highlands, Macon Early College and Union Academy will be bused to one of the programs to give all middle and high schoolaged children in the district the opportunity to experience the program.
The assemblies will begin with a brief video presentation where viewers are introduced to Rachel and given details about her life. As the assembly continues, friends and family members, via video testimonials, describe who Rachel was and how she positively impacted their lives. The one-hour multimedia assembly is emotionally charged and sets the stage for a 90-minute training session for student leaders and adults to learn bullying prevention techniques.
After the assemblies, a group of students will be chosen to initiate a “Friends of Rachel” club for each school. While every student is encouraged to join the F.O.R. Club, this particular group of students is responsible for carrying on the program message throughout their school with the unified goal to make positive changes. “The F.O.R. Club will be a precursor to the R.I.S.E. (Respect- Integrity-Success-Empathy) Club (the student leadership club at Franklin High School that was established last school year.) Memebers of the FHS R.I.S.E. Club will also be attending and assisting with the program at Macon Middle School,” explained Holland. “Additionally, there will be a student/ faculty training at Macon Middle School.”
Sheriff Holland noted that bullying prevention programs are crucial to promote overall change in a school’s culture. “There is not a school in this country that has not had an incident of bullying. The only way to address the issue is by recognizing it and taking action-- both by reacting appropriately and by proactive measures to prevent it,” said Sheriff Holland. “None of us can put our heads in the sand and pretend it does not happen. I feel like Rachel’s Challenge is a message worth listening to and I hope that everyone who experiences it will embrace the messages of the program and commit to making a positive difference in their individual schools and in the lives of those around them.”
Dr. Brigman noted that only has there been some form of bullying in every school, but it is an epidemic that is all too prominent on campuses throughout the nation. “Bullying is a major problem in our society, and no school in the country is exempt from bullying or hostile behavior amongst our youth,” said Dr. Brigman. “Rachel’s Challenge is an excellent approach to take in working toward promoting change a more positive environment for the faculty, staff and students within our District.”
“I believe that it [Rachel’s Challenge] is not only important, but our obligation, to take every opportunity to be proactive where bullying and school violence are concerned,” said Holland. “Rachel’s Challenge is being utilized by our school district as a tool to provide our students with social and emotional education that is color-blind and culturally relevant. The program will also train faculty and staff to inspire, equip and empower students to affect permanent, positive change. I am very appreciative of Macon County Schools’ administration, principals, superintendent and school board and also to the Macon County Sheriff’s Office for their willingness to invest in this program for our students,” she said.