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South Hills

Baldwin-Whitehall students learn kindness, empowerment through new initiatives

| Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018, 3:36 p.m.

Be kind to each other. Care about one another. Respect each other.

These are the messages Baldwin-Whitehall leaders hope resonate with their students through new initiatives under way in the district.

“I think the overall goal that we’re hoping for is to create a more connected school,” said teacher Adam Foote. “ A kid’s not going to learn anything if they don’t feel connected and welcome in their school building.”

This year, the district began participating in Rachel’s Challenge, a bullying and violence abatement program founded in honor of Rachel Joy Scott, the first victim of the Columbine High School tragedy.

The goal of Rachel’s Challenge is to inspire individuals to replace acts of violence, bullying and negativity with acts of respect, kindness and compassion. Rachel’s vision was to start a chain reaction of kindness, which has become the basis of the program.

Teachers spent time during an in-service day learning about the program. Then, within the first week of school, students at every grade level were presented with Rachel’s Challenge, Foote said.

The presentations were grade level appropriate. At the elementary schools, students learn about Rachel but not the tragedy at Columbine, Foote said. Middle and high school students hear more.

“There’s audio recordings from that day that the students hear,” he said. “They get the real message of, here’s what happened at Columbine.”

Following the presentation at Baldwin High School, a group of about 100 students partook in Friends of Rachel training, where they learned ways to bring kindness to life in their school, Foote said.

They looked at “things that can be done within a building to start to create this environment,” he said.

The students broke into groups, each one with a different goal.

One hopes to provide weekly positive messages to their classmates. Another is looking at transforming the building environment by painting walls to create a more positive atmosphere. Another is looking at holding larger events, such as pep rallies and assemblies, to bring the whole student body together.

One group even wants to work to create better relationships between students and teachers, Foote said.

“We’re trying to make a building that every student not only feels a part of, but wants to continue to be a part of and contribute to,” Foote said.

Rachel’s Challenge is one of three components of a larger student empowerment program the district launched this year.

The program focuses on being kind and respecting everyone while accepting diversity and not bullying; being aware of the dangers of drugs and alcohol and learning how to make good decisions; and safety and security, which include ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) training for both schools and the community setting.

Activities around all three of these topics will occur throughout the year, assistant Superintendent Denise Sedlacek said.

“It can’t be just a one time deal with any of them,” she said.

Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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