By Colin Foster
December 18, 2013
For the Troy Daily News
TROY — The Rachel’s Challenge program, student empowering strategies born from the tragedy of the 1999 Columbine High School shootings, will be offered to all Miami County schools courtesy of the UVMC Foundation.
Educators from across the county received an introduction to Rachel’s Challenge from organizers of the Colorado-based program Dec. 9 at Newton School in Pleasant Hill.
Rachel’s Challenge is based on the writings and life of 17-year-old Rachel Joy Scott, the first of 12 students and one teacher fatally shot at Columbine. It is a series of projects designed to combat bullying and address feelings of isolation through the use of kindness and compassion in everyday dealings.
The program will be offered to districts for students from elementary through high school with the foundation picking up the cost, which is significant, said Kathleen Scarbrough, president and executive director of the UVMC Foundation.
The foundation board agreed to pay for the programs after reviewing the findings of youth risks identified in a health assessment conducted earlier this year by UVMC and the Miami County Health District.
“Data indicated an issue with bullying along with children feeling as if no one cared about them,” Scarbrough said. Those feelings were expressed by a “fairly significant” percentage of students, in keeping with national data, she said.
In introducing Rachel Scott and the program, Dave Gamache shared numbers such as the 160,000 students nationwide who do not go to school each day because they are afraid of being bullied, harassed or teased.
During her short life, Rachel, as evidenced by her journals and actions attested by fellow students, was an advocate for kindness and compassion. She reached out to students who were new to her school, who were different and those picked on by others.
Scarbrough said the foundation board decided something needed to be done for the community’s children from a health standpoint.
“As research consistently indicates, the social connections that people have are as important to their overall health as is being active and eating nutritious food,” she said. “If we don’t start off with the social relationships, the other stuff doesn’t matter. That was the impetus.”
Among survey findings: Bullying and cyber-bullying are as much as a problem in Miami County as in the nation as a whole. Thirty-two percent of USA Youth — and in Miami County 40 percent of Middle School respondents and 31 percent of High School respondents reported being bullied in the past 90 days with teenage girls reporting being bullied more than teenage boys.
On several mental health related questions, approximately 10-12 percent of the students reported feeling sad and/or depressed three to four days a week. Twenty five percent of the females and 15 percent of the male respondents reported being fearful one to two days per week. Nearly nine percent of Middle and High School students reported feeling lonely all the time and 10 percent of students felt hopeful about the future rarely or less than one day a week.
Pete Vargas of Rachel’s Challenge said the program is more than about putting a stop to bullying. “Kids need to know they are not alone. They need to know they matter,” he said. “The magic is letting them know they can make a difference in someone’s life.”
The foundation has made a multi-year commitment to the program, beginning in the 2014-15 school year. The foundation will be looking for funding partners in subsequent years.
Planning already is under way for the Miami County Rachel’s Challenge kick offs between Sept. 2 and Oct. 3.
Vargas emphasized that each program presented is age appropriate. The elementary schools program focuses on kindness with no mention about Columbine.
Vargas told the school representatives that having a sponsor step forward to pick up the full cost of a program is rare.
Scarbrough said interest has been expressed by all of the county’s schools, including private schools.
For more information on Rachel’s Challenge, visit www.rachelschallenge.org.