Rachel’s Challenge continues message of kindness

MIAMI COUNTY — Emphasizing compassion and kindness, the Rachel’s Challenge program continues its impact on Miami County schools.

Counselors with the Milton-Union district, for example, said they have seen more students come forward seeking help for themselves, as well as their friends.

The Rachel’s Challenge program has wrapped up its fourth year in area schools thanks to the Upper Valley Medical Center Foundation and support from its funding partners: The Troy Foundation, Piqua Community Foundation, the Miami County Foundation, and many individual donors.

The program offers activities for student in elementary through high school. It is based on the writings and life of Rachel Joy Scott, a 17-year-old who was one of 13 people — 12 students and one teacher — fatally shot at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999.

Started by Rachel’s father, the program is designed to combat bullying and address feelings of isolation through use of kindness and compassion in everyday dealings.

The program has been well received at all grade levels at the Milton-Union schools, said Superintendent Brad Ritchey.

For grades kindergarten through five, the program focuses on monthly character words including, but not limited to, kindness, caring, compassion, perseverance, and friendship. Character education lessons and activities are based on the focus word, and students are provided with additional activities to enhance learning at home.

A key program activity is the Chain Reaction Day for middle and high school students. At the Middle School, seventh and eighth graders along with counselors, area mental health professionals, youth pastors, and parents spend time getting to know each other outside the daily school setting.

The event includes interactive games and breakout sessions on topics such as home life, bullying, school climate, drug/alcohol abuse, and peer pressure, said Krissy Honeycutt, school counselor.

“The students who participated in the Chain Reaction Day were able to see their peers from a different perspective and realized that, even though we all come from different backgrounds, we still share many of the same trials and tribulations,” Honeycutt said.

Paula Shaw, Milton Union High School counselor, said the Chain Reaction Day is well received by the high school students.

“I think it brings the students and teachers closer together – the students see the teachers as ‘real people,’” Shaw said. She pointed to a student who told an athlete that he wasn’t as “stuck up” as she thought.

“She told him. ‘I see that you struggle just like me,’” Shaw said.

Shaw said counselors are seeing more students come forward with personal issues and reaching out to help friends. “They are seeking help for themselves and others,” she said.

The Rachel’s Challenge program has been offered annually to county schools since 2014. It followed a 2013 health assessment of county youth.

“Data from the assessment indicated an issue with bullying along with children feeling as if no one cared about them, and those feelings were expressed by a fairly significant percentage of students, in keeping with national statistics,” said Kathleen Scarbrough, president of the UVMC Foundation.

As part of its community health outreach efforts, the UVMC Foundation decided to address these mental health concerns using programming from the nationally recognized Rachel’s Challenge organization. The UVMC Foundation was the first hospital foundation in the country to provide the programming to schools in its community, Scarbrough said.

For more information on the Rachel’s Challenge program visit rachelschallenge.org.