More than 4,000 Fort Dodge students, from both Fort Dodge Community School District and St. Edmond Catholic School, along with faculty and staff, family and friends, filled Dodger Stadium Wednesday to celebrate the end of the school year and a successful five months of Rachel's Challenge.
Fort Dodge schools cooperatively implemented Rachel's Challenge in January, an effort to promote acts of kindness and inclusion not only among students, but in the community.
"I think this, to my knowledge, is the first time we've had all of our students, Fort Dodge and St. Edmond, in one place at one time," Doug Van Zyl, FDCSD superintendent, said. "It's not about the schools; it's about the community of Fort Dodge and how we embrace one another."
-Messenger photos by Hans Madsen
Students help stretch a paper chain down the length of the field at Dodger Stadium Wednesday morning during an event held to celebrate the local success of Rachel’s Challenge. Each link represents an act of kindness.
Van Zyl said that while the effort has taken place for the last five months, hopefully, "this will continue for years and years."
"A chain reaction has already begun," he said.
Mayor Matt Bemrich, agreeing with Van Zyl that the effort is "bigger than any one school," proclaimed May 26 to June 1 "Rachel's Challenge Week" in Fort Dodge.
"I urge all citizens to offer their support," Bemrich said, "as we continue to be the answer and to look for the best in others."
Jennifer Lane, FDCSD director of communications, emceed the event, surrounded by middle and high school students in the bleachers and a football field filled with elementary school students. Lane described the day as a celebration of their efforts throughout the year.
"I'm so proud of our students, all you've done to show compassion for your fellow students," she said. "I hope you come back in the fall in that mode."
Long chains of paper links in various colors were brought out by students and staff, who wore bright orange shirts that read, "Accept the Challenge." The links were given in elementary and middle schools to students who helped another student with homework, sharing a pencil, or inviting another student to join them at lunch or in play at recess, among other acts of kindness.
The chains were extended the length of the football field.
"Since January, students have been performing acts of kindness," Amy Westcott, FDCSD special ed teacher, said. "Each link is an act of kindness. Our goal was to have 100 yards."
There was tension in the crowd and on the field as some of the chains broke while they were carried. Students stood over the chains so the wind would not roll them away. Those in orange shirts helping out began running back to where the chains were kept.
"We didn't have enough people to carry them," Westcott announced, "so they have to go back for more."
It took more than 15 minutes for all the chains to be brought out and still they hadn't all been straightened out.
"I would say we smashed our goal," Westcott said. "We have well over 600 yards of kindness here. You did an amazing job."
She added, "Keep up the good work over the summer."
Concluding, the students in orange shirts raced to the center of the field and clapped and danced to "What Makes You Beautiful" by One Direction.