Streetsboro -- More than 100 students at Streetsboro Middle School and Streetsboro have declared war on bullying, isolation and exclusivity at those buildings.
Following assemblies at their respective buildings, the students heard more Dec. 3 at the high school gym about "Rachel's Challenge," which is to "re-establish civility and delivering proactive antidotes to school violence and bullying," according to www.rachelschallenge.org.
Todd Lauderdale, a presenter from Rachel's Challenge, led the combined assembly of middle school and high school students, who he said would be asked to form Friends of Rachel Clubs at each school to help improve the culture at the buildings.
Rachel's Challenge grew out of the writings of Rachel Scott, who was a high school student when she was killed in the Columbine High School shooting of 1999.
"I have this theory 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," she wrote shortly before her death.
In the spirit of creating a similar "chain reaction," Lauderdale worked to lay the groundwork for Friends of Rachel Clubs at the schools, which start with the following broad goals:
Look for the best in others;
Choose positive influences;
Speak with kindness; and
Start your own chain reaction.
He said establishing strong FOR clubs is "very crucial for any long-term lasting change" at a building.
Lauderdale said the idea of the clubs is to come up with projects which encourage "kindness, compassion, respect" of others" rather than confronting bullies directly.
"We don't want you to be against anything," he said. "We want to be for the right things."
School leaders have said the hope is that positive interaction will create an environment that won't encourage bullying and isolation among students.
Henry Defer Intermediate School also is forming a club, but Wait Primary School and Campus Elementary School each have their own program rewarding good citizenship and compassion, according to Wait Principal Amy Cruse. The Dec. 3 meeting of high school and middle school students was the first step in forming clubs at those levels, said Ira Campbell, a high school counselor. He also said the club has met and was planning to meet this week, as well.
Lauderdale encouraged students to share some of their own experience with bullying and isolation.
Students responded with tales of divorce, stories about being called fat and seeing and pitying others who were bullied.
Emily Fernandez, a high school student, said she had witnessed special education students get bullied.
"They just want to be our friends," she said.
Another student said she sometimes didn't feel like she fit in earlier in her school career but learned to cope and not change to fit in with others' expectations.
"It's OK if you're along because you will learn to find your true self and your friends," she said.
Lauderdale asked what students wanted to change at their schools. Students and faculty said they would like to minimize the following:
Negative comments about others;
Bystanders who tolerate bullying without interceding;
Disrespectful comments about other students or teachers;
Making judgements about others before really knowing them;
Students encouraging fights to happen;
People purposely trying to hurt others;
Spreading of rumors; and
Students criticizing each other on social media.
Lauderdale said many schools experience the same problems in their culture.
"This does not mean you're a bad school," he told students. "It just means things can be better. One hundred sixty-thousand students miss school every day [nationwide] because of fear of attack and humiliation."
Lauderdale also shared several ideas for projects for the FOR clubs to start with and encouraged students to come up with their own ideas, as well.
"I'm not going to give you a list of four or five things you've got to do," he said.
One high school student described being a new student (not necessarily in Streetsboro) as being similar to "having a disease." Lauderdale said the first couple of weeks of a new student's experience at a new middle school or high school can be critical to their finding a social home at the school.
He said one project FOR clubs have enacted is a new student project in which several students greet the new student as he arrives, and invite him to sit with FOR Club members at lunch and to a FOR meeting. After a week or two, he said new students would "find their niche" at the school, identifying students with similar interests.
He also suggested clubs write targeted letters at specific groups of students and teachers, for example thanking team member for a good effort at the end of a sports season or thanking cafeteria or janitorial staff for the difference they make.
"When you feel appreciation for what you do, you put more effort into doing what you do," he told students.
He also suggested students undertake as a project an effort to compose one post each week on social media "building someone up instead of tearing someone down."
"Social media can be used in very terrible ways, but it also can be used in great ways," he said.
On the evening of Dec. 3, Rachel's Challenge was presented to parents and other interested community members at the high school.
Comments on Facebook varied from some parents calling the presentation and challenge "amazing" and "powerful," several others said the anti-bullying message may have been missed by the actual bullies who needed to hear it.
Lauderdale said the point of the FOR clubs is to give students a way to slowly create a culture of compassion that is "sustainable" rather than simply hope students would internalize the message from an assembly.
FB: The Gateway News/Bob Gaetjens