“Rachel’s Challenge” program aims to change school’s culture
Last week, Hopkins junior high students were faced with a challenge that had nothing to do with finishing a project, studying for a test or preparing for a big game.
Presenter Cody Hodges from “Rachel’s Challenge” spoke at all-school assemblies Jan. 24 at both junior highs in an effort to help change the culture at each school.
“Rachel’s Challenge” is a national program based on the writings and life of 17 year-old Rachel Scott, the first student killed at Columbine High School in 1999. She left a legacy of reaching out to those who were different, who were picked on by others or who were new at school, according to the program’s website.
“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,” Rachel wrote shortly before her death. “People will never know how far a little kindness can go.”
Hodges spoke about making a change at the assembly.
“We want to change the culture,” Hodge said. “The assemblies changed the climate momentarily, but we want to change the culture daily.”
In these one-hour assembly presentations, students were challenged to replace acts of violence, bullying and negativity with acts of respect, kindness and compassion.
“It’s truly amazing,” said North Junior High science teacher Tim Nefzger about Hodges’ speech. “It’s not high-tech. It’s him just telling this really compelling story.”
Hodges said students were moved to tears with the power of Rachel’s message. Students hugged one another and offered apologies for past wrongdoings.
“Our mission is starting a chain-reaction through kindness and compassion,” said Hodges.
Hodges told the students that each of them can make a difference in changing their school’s culture and encouraged them to make an immediate change in the way they interact with their fellow students.
“We all have a story and we’re all writing our story daily,” he said. “Who we are matters. How we treat people matters. Make sure you’re remembered for something positive before it’s too late.”
Following the all-school assemblies, teams of 50 students from each junior high met that afternoon at North Junior High to help master the five challenges from Rachel’s Challenge: looking for the best in others, dream big, choose positive influences, speak with kindness and start your own chain reaction.
Hodges reiterated that all 100 students at the leadership meeting were chosen for a reason. Their teachers view them as leaders in their school.
“The example that you set – your friends and your classmates are going to follow because of what you do,” Hodges said to the students.
As part of the program, each junior high will form a “Friends of Rachel” Club that Hodges hopes will meet weekly. He encouraged them to meet each week to harness the momentum and inspiration gained from the assemblies last week.
“What happens a lot of times as people, we get inspired by all kinds of different things…and the thing is, we have really good intentions and for about two weeks we’re really good about them,” he said. “And then something happens and then after two weeks, you think, ‘Well, so-and-so didn’t change so why should I change?’ And we go right back to where we were before.”
But if the students can meet regularly and talk about the culture in their school, they can make a difference, he said.
“There is power in your story,” Hodges said. “Something you say may inspire somebody else.”
Hodges can relate. A one-time former starting quarterback at Texas Tech in 2005, he dropped plans of a pro football career to speak for “Rachel’s Challenge” full-time after hearing her story.
At the leadership meeting, Hodges had students share what they learned at the assemblies earlier that day.
“I don’t see people bullied a lot physically, but I see people bullied mentally – picked on,” said West grade 7 student Shannon Maroney. “Someone might be going through something and they might put their anger onto someone else and you have to stop. You can’t fight back. You have to do it with your words.”
Hopkins High student Elizabeth Nelson attended an assembly and shared her thoughts at the leadership meeting.
“I know that you guys might not think so, but making a change and making a decision now at this point can really make an impact in your high school years,” she told the junior high students. “Making a decision now to say, ‘I don’t care about what people think. I’m going to go sit by that girl who doesn’t have anyone to sit by at lunch. I’m going to go help that person who just dropped all their stuff.’ Those little things make such a huge impact.”
Hodges later hit home that point, once again challenging the students to be the ones who can set an example and be a leader at school. It’s the message of “Rachel’s Challenge.”
“It only takes one person to do that right thing,” he said. “I believe that. This all came about because of one person.”
Contact Matthew Hankey at firstname.lastname@example.org