Rachel’s Challenge Challenges Westwood

Nicole Fiorica, Editor in Chief

One of the newest programs at Westwood High School is the Friends of Rachel. Both this club and the organization that it is associated with, Rachel’s Challenge, promote kindness in an effort to stop bullying. Though not infallible, it has the potential to change Westwood for the better.

Rachel’s Challenge is a program inspired by Rachel Scott, the first victim of the Columbine High School shootings in 1999. Shortly after Rachel died, her parents found an essay that she had written, which challenged people to perform acts of kindness. During informational assemblies held in high schools nationwide, the program itself details the Columbine shootings, Rachel herself, and the experiences of her brother, Craig, who was in the school that day but survived. It then challenges those wanting to accept Rachel’s challenge, which involves eliminating prejudice, dreaming big, choosing positive influences, performing acts of kindness, and starting a chain reaction of compassion.

All Westwood students were required to see this portion of the program, which was given during two assemblies: one in the morning for students and faculty only, and another in the evening for families. After the initial presentation, students were given the option to join the Friends of Rachel Club, otherwise known as the FOR club. At a training session later that afternoon, more than 100 students learned how to put Rachel’s Challenge into practice.

“Essentially, we learned how to handle bullying,” said senior Haleigh Catalano, a member of the FOR club. “There were several different methods taught to us on how to diffuse a bullying situation.” This training session also established Friends of Rachel as an official club at Westwood. “We brainstormed ideas of how to incorporate Rachel’s Challenge into Westwood, and had a lot of fun in the process,” Catalano said.

Teachers are also meant to play a role in the FOR club, and several attended the training session. “We did most of the same things that the students did,” said English teacher, Ryan McGuirk. “We facilitated the discussions and provided structure to the meeting.” FOR club members hope to impact Westwood in some way. “It’s about taking charge in the school and being an example to others,” McGuirk said.

The Rachel’s Challenge Program did what it was intended to do, which was to get everyone’s attention. By playing security footage from Columbine, it definitely went for shock value in terms of making people think about their actions. However, while emphasizing the goodness of Rachel’s values and comparing her to the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., it ignored the fact that the shooters themselves, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, were known to have been victims of bullying. What Harris and Klebold did was not right, but it is not fair to compare them to Adolf Hitler, and miss an opportunity to say that this is an (although extreme) example of the consequences of harassment. That is the real underlying issue—that they saw this as their best option because of the way they were treated. That event, more than anything, is an example of why bullying needs to be stopped.

Because of these major consequences of bullying, Rachel’s Challenge can be of huge benefit to Westwood. While bullying is by no means an epidemic at Westwood, it would be naïve to say that it is nonexistent. “Bullying is always a problem, and it happens at every school,” McGuirk said. “I don’t see it in the classroom as much, but I don’t think that we’re a school that has gangs or cliques. That could just mean that bullying harder to identify, because it’s unorganized and you don’t always know where it’s coming from.”

No matter what form bullying takes at Westwood, Rachel’s Challenge is capable of making people think about their actions. Plenty of student clubs try to unify students, but the FOR club is the only one that seeks to do it through kindness. Catalano said, “I’m hoping that it’ll make Westwood a happier place to be. People are typically stressed and sometimes they’re just having a bad day. So my wish is that Rachel’s Challenge unifies the school through activities that include all ages and grades. And, I’m hoping the message of kindness that Rachel’s Challenge so highly preaches will stick.”

So far, Rachel’s Challenge has only had a few weeks to get started. Its first attempt to unify the school through simple chain reactions is through Fist-Bump Friday. In theory, it’s a weekly event in which students give each other fist-bumps in the halls and in the classrooms. As far as starting a chain reaction goes, it’s a pretty good idea; the problem is putting it into practice. Most students would rather have someone else break the ice, so if The FOR club wants to change Westwood, they are going to have to be the ones who start the reaction. If it is going to be effective, the FOR club cannot only exist through meetings; students need to see Rachel’s Challenge put into action in order for it to catch on.

According to McGuirk, it will take a few more months to see how Rachel’s Challenge affects the rest of the student body. “Hopefully, it will help people be aware that bullying has repercussions and that these things do matter. And if a little kindness is what it takes to make things better, then they’ve done a good job.”