By Loretta Gillespie
The Cullman Times
The subject of bullying in our schools has become a familiar topic, as it should be. Although the violence we have witnessed in schools across the country has become an unwelcome sight on our television news, the horror of this phenomenon is not as recent as some think.
According to the Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood in History and Society, the 20th century saw both the type and the focus of school violence change. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the master or the school itself was the target of violence, with the students often acting in concert as the perpetrators. By the 20th century, student-on-student violence had become the norm. Parents began to fear for the safety of their children as violence escalated from sticks and fists in the 1920s to bricks, bats and chains in the 1940s, knives in the 1960s, and guns in the 1980s and 1990s. The intensification of the means of violence reflected greater social changes. Gang violence rocked schools in the 1960s and 1970s. Schools were considered gang turf and the violence resulted from issues of crime as well as control. Vandalism and schoolboy fights gave way to assault, armed robbery, rape and murder.
The document went on to state that, “the late 1990s saw another transformation of the nature of school violence. While the majority of earlier incidences took place in urban and inner-city schools, this new wave of violence took place in suburban, largely white, middle-class neighborhoods. Individual-disaffected students sought to purge their particular demons by shooting schoolmates and teachers in calculated acts of violence. Between October 1997 and May 1998, there were five school shootings in which children as young as 11 shot and killed 14 students and teachers and wounded 29 others. The Columbine shootings in 1999 sparked a flurry of other shootings. From April 1999 through March of 2001, nine additional school shootings occurred. Six people, ranging in age from a 6-year-old girl to a 35-year-old teacher, were killed, including one student shooter. Twenty-four were wounded. These incidents have caused the court system in the United States to rethink juvenile crime.”
Because of these horrendous outbursts of violence, the Fairview community near Cullman has decided to take a stand against violence. The leaders of the community have arranged to bring “Rachel’s Challenge” to Fairview, and they hope that other churches, schools, clubs, and individuals will join them in this challenge on Wednesday, Jan. 8, at 6:30 p.m., in the Joe Shultz Gymnasium.
Who is Rachel, and what is her challenge, you ask?
Seventeen-year-old Rachel Scott was the first person to be killed in the Columbine school shootings mentioned above. A beautiful, petite, dark-haired girl, Rachel left behind six hand-written journals which her family, including her father, Darrel, and her stepmother, Sandy Scott, have decided to share with the world.
According to Darrel Scott, these journals have become the basis for the largest school assembly and training program in America, with over 16 million students and teachers having heard the message in live settings and hundreds of thousands of others who have received the challenge through video programs and training.
The gist of Rachel’s message is a simple one, though it seems to have gotten lost somewhere along the way in the hustle and bustle of people’s daily lives. The message is this: look for the good in others, show them kindness and compassion. Which is, of course, the polar opposite of bullying, the trigger that seems to be the root cause of Rachel’s death and many of the other school shootings that have occurred over the last two decades.
Rachel’s dad says that the journals are filled with Rachel’s vision of a world filled with kindness and compassion. She hoped to start a chain reaction of that kindness and compassion that would cover the entire planet.
In fact, her family found an outline of her hands on the back of her dresser. In the outline she had written these words, “These hands belong to Rachel Joy Scott and will someday touch millions of people’s hearts.”
Little did she know that the chain reaction she envisioned would start with her own death.
Due to Rachel’s Challenge, there have been hundreds of documented suicides prevented, and the influx of bullying has been stemmed to the point where thousands of bullies have apologized in public to their peers, asking for forgiveness for their actions.
“Communities have been transformed,” says Rachel’s dad in the video, which explains more about Rachel’s Challenge and the impact it has had since its inception.
Fairview’s students, who are reported by their teachers, counselors and other leaders to be an exceptional group of young people, have welcomed Rachel’s Challenge with open arms and hearts filled with the compassion of Rachel’s dreams.
“Two of my students came to me last year and voiced a desire to do something to prevent bullying,” said Fairview’s counselor, Kim Crumbley. “They had been victims of bullying previously and they wanted to see that it didn’t happen to other children, especially the younger ones.”
Their willingness to step forward sparked a flame that has grown in the community. “They wanted to put their feelings into action — to have a place where kids can come to talk if they are being ostracized or bullied,” explained Crumbley.
Desmond Farr was one of those students. According to Farr, he was the victim of bulling at a younger age, possibly due to being the new kid in school.
“I’m sure none of them knew anything about how I’d grown up,” he said recently. “It went on for about two years, starting in middle school. But around the eighth grade, I got tired of it and stood up for myself.”
When Farr found the inner strength to stand up for himself, the bullying stopped. In fact, he says that after he talked to others about the bullying, they became his friends.
“I still see the same thing happening in middle school now and I try to stop it, and sometimes it does stop,” he said. “In high school, I’ve seen a lot of anti-bullying going on, and I think we need to start talking about it more. I hope when people hear about Rachel’s Challenge, they will find out that there is a place here for everyone.”
“That’s right,” encouraged Crumbley. “The Power of One — the Power of Desmond — can make a change.”
Crumbley says that Fairview has developed programs that have been very positive for those students who might have trouble fitting in. “It gives them the tools to know how to help themselves,” she pointed out.
Such classes and activities include drama, which Crumbley says has been a great outlet. “There is also a program called, ‘Unique’, which is a girls club that teaches them how to become young ladies.”
The school has also had success in mentoring programs. Because of the involvement of the entire community in a cause for the common good, Rachel’s Challenge invites others from outside the Fairview community to be included in this outreach.
According to Crumbley and Fairview’s Family and Consumer Sciences instructor, Whitney Haynes, Rachel’s Challenge exists to equip and inspire individuals to replace acts of violence, bullying and negativity with acts of respect, kindness and compassion. This program is based upon the theories and ethics of Rachel Joy Scott, the first victim of the Columbine High School massacre, which occurred in Littleton, Colorado, on April 20, 1999. Rachel’s story provides a simple, yet powerful example of how small acts of kindness and acceptance motivate us to consider our relationships with the people we come in contact with every day.
“Our goal is to start a chain reaction of kindness and compassion,” both Crumbley and Haynes agreed. “We know that this is on a Wednesday night, and we hope that all the county churches will plan to bring their congregations to this assembly, which will eventually impact all of us in some way.”
Pastor Roger Hood of Spring Arbor Baptist Church in Fairview, “We have a real interest in this community and in the student body. This is a small school and basically 95 percent of the students are great kids. There are another five percent who are often overlooked and people need to understand and become involved with these kids.”
Hood points out that some of the students have absent parents for one reason or another, and that their frustration often comes out as aggression toward others. “Bullying is getting a lot of media attention right now,” he said. “This program got my attention because of its emphasis on preventing bullying and violence. Rachel’s Challenge reminds us of those children who are withdrawn or acting out and encourages our entire community to support the common goal of preventing these actions,” stressed Hood.
Jan. 8, students in grades 9-12 will see a multi-media presentation led by the Rachel’s Challenge organization. At 6:30 p.m. that evening, another presentation will be held for the parents/guardians, and other members of the community, with the same goal: to positively shape the community.
Everyone is invited to come to this meeting.
Rachel’s Challenge will kick off at Fairview High School on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014.
For more information, contact Whitney Haynes at email@example.com or phone her at 256-796-5106 or Kim Crumbley at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You may also contact Roger Hood at email@example.com; 256-796-5625 church; or 256-347-9380 cell.