Fort Mill Times

Oakridge students accept Rachel’s Challenge

Those familiar with the challenge stood out Friday, offering a tissue for coming tears.

Hundreds of Oakridge Middle School students heard and accepted Rachel’s Challenge Oct. 10. The kindness promoting, anti-bullying program is based on the life and writing of Rachel Scott, the first victim of the 1999 Columbine High School shootings. This year is the fifth Rachel’s Challenge assembly at Oakridge.

“This is part of a bigger picture,” said Principal Will Largen. “This is not just a one-day assembly. This is the way we treat each other.”

Oakridge offers bullying prevention and character education classes, along with mentoring Mondays. School and district administrators say the continuing focus on how students interact is making a difference, with relatively few discipline referrals from Oakridge.

“It’s few and it’s far between,” Largen said of bullying. “The kids do a good job of policing themselves.”

Sheila Quinn, assistant superintendent for Clover School District, said overall bullying is verbal compared to physical, and it peaks at the elementary school level. Bullying can change with time. Current issues include bullying via texting, social media and the use of slurs students say without thinking or even knowing what the terms mean.

“They don’t even use them correctly,” Quinn said. “They just use them.”

Another challenge, even with all the talk in recent years of bullying, is defining bullying behavior.

“They’ve heard the term bullying a lot,” said Kristen Meek, school counselor. “Sometimes they think of it wrong.”

More than a dozen parents attended Friday’s assembly, many speaking with counselors afterward about how to teach children the difference between bullying and conflict. School leaders want to avoid both, but particularly the ongoing nature of bullying.

“Your job is to make this school a better school,” Largen told students. “When someone doesn’t treat someone right, bad things happen.”

The challenge assembly included video and photos from the Columbine attacks, leaving 13 victims and two perpetrators dead. It told the story of Scott, who foresaw a life impacting the world but who died in the attacks at age 17. Students received a challenge to rid themselves of prejudice, dream big, choose positive influences, speak with kindness and keep the chain reaction of kindness that Rachel started, going.

“Saying yes to kindness is a lot better than saying no to bullying,” said Sherri Ciurlik, school board member and veteran of Rachel’s Challenge programs.

Ciurlik estimates she’s seen the assembly a “couple dozen times.” The district also planned an event later in that day at Clover Middle School. Ciurlik, who brought her own box of tissues, recalls how past programs impacted students. She even hand-delivered letters from students in the district to Scott’s father Darrell and listened as he read one during a television broadcast.

Ciurlik said the person who wrote that letter, a Blue Eagle Academy student, saw disciplinary issues subside after accepting Rachel’s Challenge. Oakridge parents hope for similar results.

“I saw a lot of emotion on the kids’ faces,” said mom Julie McGirr. “I saw a lot of kids crying. I was crying. I think it shows how important this is.”

Mom McGirr says her sixth grade girl is kind with or without a program. Yet she looked forward to her daughter coming home Friday afternoon.

“I hope she realizes words do hurt, and they need to be used in the right way,” McGirr said. “I hope she will come home and want to set goals.”