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FD school district takes up Rachel’s Challenge

December 12, 2012
By BRANDON L. SUMMERS ( , Messenger News

The Fort Dodge Community School District is taking up Rachel's Challenge.

Rachel's Challenge is a national program named for Rachel Scott, the first victim in the Columbine High School shooting in Columbine, Colo., in 1999. The program isn't about bullying or violence, though. It is based on Scott's journals.

"She wrote several different journals about how she thought her kindness toward one person could start a chain reaction, and how her interactions with people could be a role model and example for how others could set themselves apart," Doug Van Zyl, FDCSD superintendent, said.

Van Zyl said the district has had several conversations about trying to "change some of the climate, culture, within our school district."

"We sat back and reflected on some things," he said. "And it's not just about our school district, it's really about our community. How do we go about changing how we even interact as adults? How do we create an atmosphere of compassion, and how do we go about trying to develop something that also teaches our kids what it is to be good citizens?"

Rachel's Challenge includes professional development for school faculty, Van Zyl said.

"They'll talk to them not only about how do they interact with kids, but how do they interact with each other, how do they be role models and examples for how to get along with one another," he said. "Even though we may not always agree with on everything, there's still great ways we can collaborate and work together."

The program also provides students with the opportunity to form clubs, such as a "Random Acts of Kindness" club or an "Honor Before Victory" athletic club.

FDCSD staff will work with Rachel's Challenge on Jan. 9, a professional development day. Presentations will begin on Jan. 14 with the elementary schools, Jan. 15 with the middle schools and the Senior High on Jan. 16.

"They will also do some training with up to 100 students on how you become mentors and how you take this challenge and utilize it, so we can actually be developing young leaders within our schools who will be able to speak out about bullying or how you treat one another, or how you show respect," Van Zyl said.

Van Zyl hopes to reach out to the community for their participation, as well. On Jan. 16 there will also be a community presentation.

"It's not just something where it's going to be the school district, it really needs to be something that trickles down into the community," he said. "We can show the kids, we can tell the kids, but if they go home and don't have mom and dad, or grandma and grandpa, or somebody else being a role model and example for them, that's a challenge."

He added, "Our focus is not so much on the schools, but how this can trickle over into the community."

Stuart Cochrane, FDCSD board president, said the coming program is "extremely exciting."

"The whole idea behind Rachel's Challenge is something that I think every person and school district ought to be thrilled to have an opportunity to go through," he said. "It's addressing a huge issue facing young people everywhere and if we have the opportunity to bring that here for the benefit of our kids, our parents, our community, I think it would be something that would benefit everyone."

The program will be paid for with professional development funds, Van Zyl said, and with partners and through sponsors.

"We really see this as an opportunity to, as Rachel's Challenge will tell you, start a chain reaction," he said. "Having been here two and a half years, I guess I'm just tired or hearing a lot of negative things. We've got great kids, we have great schools, now we need to give them the opportunity to have some kind of catalyst, a spark ... to give kids the right tools to do this."



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