Yesterday, I had the opportunity to meet another anti-bulling/anti-violence organization at a speaking engagement. I was so moved by the speaker, Bill Sanders, from Rachel's Challenge. I could not hold back the tears. He gave a moving presentation on Rachel's life and the Columbine shooting. The presentation was about using kindness to help decrease bullying and violence.
I had never seen Rachel's Challenge in action. I have only heard about their work, so I was delighted to be invited to hear Bill Sanders speak on behalf of Rachel's Challenge. I was really touched by his ability to capture a gym filled with teenagers. I would like to give you some of my thoughts on his presentation and Rachel's Challenge.
I would give Rachel's Challenge two thumbs up. It was an educational, authentic, and moving presentation on how Rachel's Challenge can make schools a safer place. The content was well delivered and organized to retain the audience. Bill spoke with passion and grace. He cares about this cause and you could tell that this was not his first rodeo. If your school ever needs a motivational speaker, I would highly recommend Bill Sanders. Rachel's Challenge's strategies, tools, and resources are applicable to the youth. The footage they showed gave a good picture of how kindness can make our world a better place. I felt connected to Rachel and her family. Rachel's family is amazing and they have touched millions of students by delivering Rachel's story and her tragic death from the Columbine shooting. I was astonished by their work and dedication to this cause.
The following is constructive feedback on how they could improve their program.
Here are my thoughts:
Rachel's Challenge is the story of Rachel Joy Scott and her legacy. Honestly, the teenager was wiser and kinder beyond her years. She had such a great philosophy on life. She lived to serve and protect people. Her ideals and values were strong and inspiring. Rachel had an amazing sense of self and a lot of confidence. She touched many lives and her journals would blow anyone away. I had never seen such a kind teenager. Her tragic death saddens me and hearing her story inspired me to be a better person.
Well of course it did, I was in college when Columbine happened. I was horrified watching the news on April 20th, 1999. I remember the story seeming so surreal. Could teenagers have the power or ability to do something so horrific? I could not wrap my brain around this type of violence. With that said, I am from a small...small...tiny town in Canada. I was very sheltered as a child and I was attending school in Vermont (a private catholic college). So you can easily say that I was ignorant of such violence. I will forever remember that day; it is encrypted in my brain. I was part of that day just like millions of Americans that watched the massacre on TV.
However, the teenagers sitting at the assembly yesterday didn't remember Columbine. They might have heard about it, but they don't feel the connection that you or I might have with that somber day in 1999. These students were maybe 2 or 3 years old. It is hard for them to relate to something that happened 14 years ago. I can see how this might be way over their heads. Think about it, the Newton Shooting for them is the way we felt about the Columbine tragedy (it was the first time we saw such a massacre on TV). It was the first time we realized that school might no longer be a safe place. Those emotions we felt 14 years ago as a young teen or adult, they felt a few weeks ago.
It was sad but Bill didn't address Sandy Hook's school shooting. He did not try to correlate the two and send a message about violence in schools. It would have been the perfect hook to tie Rachel's Challenge back to those students. It is important to relate to students, we need to connect with them to see how they can make a difference. Using more current media footage in conjunction with Rachel's story will strengthen the presentation.
Another thing that did not sit well with me was the dated material. They showed all the celebrities and famous athletes that were dedicated to the cause. First, some of those celebrities, students didn't know. Second, it seemed like a sales pitch and students could see right through it. Third, unless they are reality TV celebrities, someone from Twilight, Game of Thrones, or current popular athletes, they don't have much leverage getting through to students. Honestly, one of the people in the clips was an actor from the Disney Channel. That right there would turn some teens off and they might feel this presentation is not for them. Instead of focusing on the celebrities, I would use real teenagers. Interview them so they can speak about how Rachel's Challenge changed their lives. My recommendation would be to update some of their footage and interviews so students can connect with the speaker and understand the impact of Rachel's Challenge.
Moreover, the presentation was great but then what? What is next for the school? How can students process all that they have learned in the past hour? What can Rachel's Challenge do to debrief students? There needs to be some sort of follow up or accountability set so that some of the strategies are implemented. There is a bit of training after the presentation for some volunteers but sadly, it falls into the school's hands of what to do next. In my opinion that is a Big Mistake! Principals, Superintendents, Deans, Social Workers have enough on their plate. To take on another task might be too much or they might not really know how to navigate this new project. They need some outside help for this program to stick.
Bill also talked about how much success this program has had and showed all these schools following Rachel's Challenge. It was great to see but what about the stats on schools that didn't follow through or had issues implementing Rachel's Challenge. Working in schools, I know how much teachers and staff juggle. The last thing you want is to create more work. You want to help teachers, empower the students, and create a stronger community involvement. So I would recommend better follow up to that program so the success of the program does not rely entirely on the school staff.
Often, presentations or speakers can be ineffective in dealing with this issue. Students need to be heard and come up with solutions on their own. If we tell them what to do, they have the tendency to do the opposite. They are no longer children but not yet adults. They are stuck in this tormented world of peer pressure, competition, hormones, discovery, and lack of freedom. We need to create an environment where they can speak up and we need to learn how to listen. That is the way to really start making a difference.
In conclusion, I would recommend Rachel's Challenge to a school that wants a pick me up or is looking for something to jump start the year. It's a great program and there is a lot to learn from them; however, it is not a long-term solution to decreasing bullying or violence. We need to get students more involved and have them figure out what they can do to make a difference. The power lies in the hands of youth.
Until Next Time...