‘Rachel’ program challenges thousands of students in U46 to combat bullying
By Erin Sauder For The Courier-News March 7, 2013 5:10PM
Dave Gamache, a Rachel's Challenge speaker, urges U46 middle school students to help create a culture of kindness and compassion, during a presentation Thursday at the Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates. | Erin Sauder~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 9, 2013 11:42AM
HOFFMAN ESTATES — Bullying and middle school students can unfortunately sometimes go hand-in-hand.
But a presentation about Columbine High School shooting victim Rachel Scott has many Elgin School District U46 students hoping for a change.
On Thursday morning, nearly 3,000 students from the district’s middle schools traveled to the Sears Centre Arena to attend the Rachel’s Challenge anti-bullying program, Chicago’s largest anti-bullying rally held in conjunction with the start of the 2013 Big Ten Women’s Basketball Tournament at the arena.
Rachel’s Challenge is a series of student empowering programs and strategies that equip students and adults to combat bullying and allay feelings of isolation and despair by creating a culture of kindness and compassion, sponsors said.
The programs are based on the writings and life of 17-year-old Rachel Scott, who was the first student killed in the shootings at Columbine High School in 1999.
Chris Conway, 12, a student at Larsen Middle School in Elgin said, he has witnessed incidents of bullying at his school.
“I’ve seen people get pushed in the hallway,” he said.
He found Thursday’s program “very inspiring.”
“I hope it helps us all be a lot more kinder to people,” he said.
Fellow Larsen student Yesenia Porras, 12, hopes the Rachel’s Challenge presentation will inspire her fellow students to share their feelings instead of harboring negative feelings.
“People need to stop taking (their anger) out on other people,” she said. “They need to put their feelings in a journal.”
According to the Rachel’s Challenge website, each day 160,000 students do not go to school because they are bullied, teased and harassed. By turning the story of a tragic death at Columbine into a mission for change, Rachel’s Challenge is helping create safer learning environments and making a world-wide impact, it said.
Larsen Middle School Assistant Principal Darnell Gibson said he and his staff continuously work with the students on the three R’s: respecting themselves, respecting others, and respecting their environment.
Recently, Gibson said, a student was sent to his office for hitting another student on the bus.
“I asked him, ‘How come you slapped that kid?’ And this student said, ‘Because I wanted to fit in. I knew it wasn’t right, but I wanted to fit in.’ He did it because he felt pressured to fit in. But the kids need to treat others as they want to be treated,” Gibson said.
He said his staff will be looking at ways they can expand on the anti-bullying message the students learned Thursday.
“We need to find what we can do as a school to piggyback off of this,” he said. “We need to take the time to see why some kids are in trouble all the time and help them figure out what they should be doing. I hope from today our kids will take Rachel’s Challenge back with them.”
Dave Gamache, a Rachel’s Challenge speaker, lauded the students’ behavior during the presentation.
“These are kids that hardly ever get to go out on field trips and they have a basketball game to go to. But they were really in tune to what we were trying to get across. I’m always amazed at how Rachel’s story shines through and the kids really seem to get it,” he said.
The anti-bullying rally was made possible through the Northwest Suburban Chicago Sports Council’s fundraising efforts. Area companies donated more than $40,000 to pay for the nationally recognized Rachel’s Challenge seminar, tickets to a tournament game, lunch and transportation to the event for four local middle schools.
More information on Rachel’s Challenge is at www.rachelschallenge.org.