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Culture of compassion

Sep 30, 2012 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

Bullying awareness central to early-year work in District 25

Riverton teachers are working to prevent bullying in the city's middle and high schools by helping students develop respect for one another's differences.

Rachel's Challenge

Students at Riverton Middle School participated this month in a program called Rachel's Challenge, which incorporates a series of student-empowering strategies to combat bullying and allay feelings of isolation and despair by creating a culture of kindness and com-passion, according to rachelschallenge.org.

"The whole lesson was about treating people the way you want to be treated," RMS principal Cheryl Mowry said at a meeting of the Fremont County School District 25 Board of Trustees.

"I had a lot of kids come up to me and say how much they liked it."

The two-day experience included an all-school assembly followed by a more in-depth program for 100 students the following day.

"Some were selected, and others volunteered to spend the whole day talking about how to treat people," Mowry said, adding that the conversation was designed to encourage sharing of personal sto

ries. "You realize your problems are pretty minimal compared to what some of these kids are going through, and even some of our staff members."

The curriculum is based on the writings and life of 17-year-old Rachel Scott, the first student killed during the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School.

Mowry said the program outlines ongoing work teachers can do to ensure the lessons promoted through Rachel's Challenge remain in the minds of students throughout the school year.

"We started a club last year (to) promote people doing community service type things and starting to give instead of get," Mowry said. "It's really neat."

Challenge Day

With similar lessons in mind, teachers at Riverton High School organized a Challenge Day to help launch the new school year. Superintendent Terry Snyder attended the event, which he called an "amazing experience," inviting community members to join the activities next time the program is scheduled.

Challenge Day is defined at challengeday.org as a way to "demonstrate the possibility of love and connection through the celebration of diversity, truth, and full expression."

Like Rachel's Challenge, Challenge Day involves the sharing of personal stories.

"It really shows you the degree of difficulty kids have in their day, then in their life," Snyder said. "Some of the things they've already dealt with as 15-year-old kids is pretty amazing."

He described one sophomore whose father left home when the student was 7 years old. The student's mother remarried, then fell into problems of her own that eventually led to a divorce. When he was in seventh grade, the student came home to find all of his belongings on his mother's lawn.

"He had to go find a home; he had to hunt down his ex-stepfather," Snyder said.

The family issues affected the student's ability to focus in school, Snyder said, but with support from friends and staff the student had a smooth transition to high school and now is engaged in class and involved in extra-curricular activities.

"Those types of stories really add perspective to what our kids and our job is all about," Snyder said.

"They come to us with that (baggage), and we have to find a way to move them a step forward."

Snyder said this was the second consecutive year that RHS has hosted a Challenge Day after several years without the program.

He said homeroom teachers will have follow-up conversations with students to keep last week's lessons fresh in their minds.

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