Friday, April 18, 2014
   
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Rachel’s Challenge

Westbrook, CT - For the Westbrook Foundation, the students of Westbrook are this shoreline town’s greatest asset. Driving that point home, the Foundation granted $4795 to the Westbrook Public Schools to implement the Rachel’s Challenge Program, which focuses on bullying in today’s schools.

“We want to be proactive, not reactive,” said Superintendent of Schools, Patricia Charles. “I think the Rachel’s Challenge program was fantastic and very dynamic. It really got the students focused on creating a culture of caring, which is how we are going to stop bullying.”

Rachel Scott was the first victim at Columbine High School, on April 20 1999. In reaction to this horrible event, her family started Rachel’s Challenge, a heartfelt, educational program challenging students to be kind to each other in every way, every day. The program has now traveled throughout the country spreading Rachel’s words.

“At the heart of Rachel’s Challenge message is kindness and compassion,” said Colleen Kirk, the speaker, presenter from Rachel’s Challenge who visited the Westbrook Schools. “We try and teach the power of each student’s words and actions.”

The presentation, which was tailored to the different age groups at all three schools, encouraged five central challenges; eliminate prejudice, dare to dream, choose your influences, kind words and start a chain reaction.

“The program was phenomenal,” said elementary school teacher Diana Burns, who was instrumental in getting Rachel’s Challenge to the schools. “The Westbrook Foundation was by far our biggest supporter. If it wasn’t for the Foundation, the Westbrook School district would not have benefitted from such a powerful program.” Burns brought the program to Westbrook as part of an internship assignment she is fulfilling under the tutelage of Elementary School principal, Kit Bishiop. Burns is currently going for her degree in administration.

“I had to do a school improvement project and I thought that anti-bullying is so current right now that Rachel’s Challenge would be great for all the students to learn from,” explains Burns. “The positive feedback from the students has been incredible. The High School seniors want to walk their “chain link of kindness” they have been working on since the assembly, across the stage at graduation. I think that is great. It has gotten the students to visibly think and do in a positive way.” “I think the program was very well done and it was a wonderful opportunity for the staff to learn from, as well as the students,” said Charles, who hopes to sustain this kind of learning with a continuous message of anti-bullying.

“Rachel’s family started this program to help other communities be proactive and take the necessary preventive measures before something like Columbine happens again,” explained Kirk. “We hope this program is successful in stopping bullying and we hope the banner that the students sign, committing them to Rachel’s 5 Challenges, will hang in their schools and remind them how important their acts of kindness to each other are.”