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Morgan County partners with 'Rachel's Challenge' to increase school safety

October 02, 2007|By TRISH RUDDER

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.VA. - Keeping children safe and learning about their concerns go hand in hand, and Morgan County is the first in the Eastern Panhandle to introduce Rachel's Challenge, a powerful effort to reduce school violence by building positive relationships and holding all-day workshops on teen issues.

Morgan County high school and middle school students attended Teen Issues Day workshops last week as part of the schools' first-time participation in Rachel's Challenge, a program designed to strengthen positive relationships by promoting small acts of kindness.

The events at Berkeley Springs High School on Wednesday and at Warm Springs Middle School on Thursday were funded through the Morgan County Partnership.

Jacqueline Fischer, the project director for the Morgan County Partnership, said the collaborative group is made up of the county commission, schools, law enforcement, health sectors, parks and recreation, and other community organizations.

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Rachel Scott was the first student killed at Columbine High School in 1999, and her family and others have been making presentations on her behalf.

Rachel's Challenge was presented to the students by Rachael Bussinger, 20, of Colorado Springs, Colo.

Rachel Scott kept diaries that were found after her death, and her writing inspired the program's inception. She wrote:

· Eliminate prejudice by looking for the best in others

· Dare to Dream Set goals Keep a journal

· Choose your influences input determines output

· Kind words Small acts of kindness equal a huge impact

· Start a chain reaction with family and friends

These words are the goals of the Friends of Rachel - the students who take up her challenge, Bussinger said.

The Friends of Rachel will have about six adult and six student leaders, and they each will have about 30 students, Bussinger said.

"The goal is that everybody promotes kindness," she said.

Gene Brock, principal at Warm Springs Middle School, was eager to get the program in Morgan County. He said he met Darrell Scott, Rachel's father, when he saw Rachel's Challenge in Charleston, W.Va., this summer while attending the West Virginia Principals Institute.

Denton Powell, 17, a Berkeley Springs High School senior, said after seeing Rachel's Challenge, "It makes you think twice about people before you judge them."

Morgan County Schools Superintendent David Banks said, "Rachel's Challenge had an impact on me I can't describe. If the program doesn't change how you view others, regardless of how you view race, gender or a previous experience with that person, you weren't paying attention."

"A big part of this is positive relationships between students, and between students and adults, and that is a major obstacle to learning in schools if that is not in place," Banks said.

Lance Fox, assistant principal of Berkeley Springs High School, said 50 members of the student body who showed good leadership qualities and demonstrated acts of kindness were chosen by administrators for the Friends of Rachel chain reaction teams. By Thursday, close to 50 more students were interested in joining the teams.

The participating students first must find and thank three students in the school that had a good influence on them. Then, they each will reach out to five students and promote Rachel's five challenges, he said.

Fox said it was a lot like the movie "Pay It Forward."

"Every kid in every school needs to feel they belong and they have worth. We want to bring all students together, and this starts the process toward a reduction in bullying and prejudice," Fox said.

"This is meaningful character education," he said.

"I've been working in community organizing for 25 years in Morgan County, and I've never seen the enthusiasm and energy around providing support for our young people that I'm seeing through the partnership's work together and around teen issues day," Fischer said.

High school workshops focused on teen issues such as "Anger: It's everyone else's problem," "Signs of hope when things get low" and "Can't take the stress? Learn techniques for coping."

Fox said the students chose 22 topics of discussion from a larger list. Each student attended five workshops of their choice.

The community was invited to see Rachel's Challenge on Thursday night at Berkeley Springs High School, and the presentation was funded by Morgan County Parks and Recreation, Fischer said.

Fischer said funding is provided in part by a prevention plan grant from the Strategic Prevention Framework (SPF) through the Governor's West Virginia Partnership to Promote Community Well Being.

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