School clubs still focusing on kindness

Wednesday, 13 June 2012 - 1:18pm
By Heather Latter, Staff writer, Fort Frances Times Ltd.

Called “Friends of Rachel” (FOR) Clubs, groups of students from eight different schools across Rainy River District continue to spread the theory that “if one person can go out of their way to show compassion, then it will start a chain reaction of the same.”
Those words, written by Rachel Scott shortly before her death in the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, are the basis for the program “Rachel’s Challenge,” which was presented to local students back in the fall.
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“It’s just so important to treat people with respect,” said Jarrod Ball, president of the FOR Club at Robert Moore School here.
“I am so proud of all the students,” he added. “I have seen a big difference in the school this year.”
The “Rachel’s Challenge” program was initiated locally by Steve Latimer, youth justice co-ordinator with the United Native Friendship Centre here.
He saw the importance of creating positive peers and took it upon himself to get community partners on board to accumulate the funds to bring in the “Rachel’s Challenge” presenters.
More than 2,000 students in Grades 7-12 from across the district were able to see the presentation while several hundred members of the community took in the two evening sessions.
The mission of “Rachel’s Challenge” is to inspire, equip, and empower every person to create a permanent positive culture change in their school, business, or community by starting a chain reaction of kindness.
Latimer also strived to ensure the “Rachel’s Challenge” presentation was different from other anti-bullying programs in that it could be sustained within the schools by creating the FOR Clubs, which would keep the message of kindness at the forefront.
More than 100 students were trained by the “Rachel’s Challenge” presenter, providing them with strategies for how to deal with bullies and offering suggestions for positive things to do within the school to promote kindness.
They also were provided with a kit of materials.
Students at Robert Moore, led by the FOR Club there, demonstrated kindness last Thursday with a “Celebration of Kindness” that saw a paper chain link together the students through the school and then all around the playground.
Each link had an act of kindness written on it that students had recorded throughout the school year.
Ball estimated there were about 1,500 links, meaning many acts of kindness were performed among the students.
“I am thrilled,” Latimer enthused as he watched the students carry the chain from classroom to classroom, adding more links as they picked up more students for the rally.
“Look at all the good deeds,” he remarked. “It feels so good.
“There’s just no explaining it as I see the chain get bigger and bigger. It makes it all worthwhile.
“They’ve taken that next step,” Latimer added. “And what we’re doing is creating hundreds of positive peers who believe they can change things for the better.”
The students then gathered in the gym, placing the chain in a circle in the middle, and listened to Latimer.
“Isn’t it nice to come to a school and it be such a warm and friendly place?” he said.
“No one wants to live in a community where they are picked on,” he added, explaining that often words hurt more than fists.
“You are all very positive peers,” Latimer told the students. “I know this is going to be a way better place to come to school.
“Thank you. I appreciate your efforts.”
In hopes of continuing to sustain the various FOR Clubs year after year, Latimer said they’ve decided to honour a student at each school with the “Rachel’s Challenge” leadership award.
He noted it goes to someone who has demonstrated kindness, has been an excellent role model, and has helped to make the school a safe place.
The Robert Moore School award was presented to Gabi Peters.
Latimer also will be making presentations at Donald Young School, Sturgeon Creek School, J.W. Walker School, St. Francis School, Fort Frances High School, Rainy River High School, and the Sturgeon Creek Alternative Program.
A $100 bursary at the high schools also will be awarded.
“The students have done lots of positive things and they should be commended,” Latimer noted.
He said the FOR Clubs have done such activities as passing along trees of “Warm Wishes,” holding bake sales and donating funds to the Special Olympics, and playing a large role in the anti-bullying “Day of Pink.”
“I really hope it will keep going and that they will build upon it year after year,” added Latimer, thanking all the community partners who helped the students become positive peers and spread Rachel’s message of kindness.