LINCOLN - Alcona High School will host an assembly for students, staff and parents on Jan. 8 as the first step toward bringing a national anti-bullying program called "Rachel's Challenge" to the school.
Sponsored by the school's parent teacher organization, the program is named for and inspired by the first student killed by a gunman in Columbine High School in 1999 and founded by her father. Alcona High School English teacher Brande Ellsworth, the chairperson of the school's anti-bullying task force who explained the program to the board of education last month, said she heard about the program from Assistant Principal Dan O'Connor, who heard about it from PTO member Michele Wambold after she attended an assembly in Oscoda in September.
Ellsworth said Wambold contacted program representatives, filled out the application and helped secure funding for the program through a series of fundraisers in November, and now three age-specific assemblies are scheduled for Jan. 8. The first, aimed at elementary students, will run from 9-10 a.m.; the second, for middle school and high school students, from 12:30-2 p.m.; and the third, an evening assembly for both students and parents, from 7-8 p.m. A member of Rachel's family will tell Rachel's story, framed by principles in Rachel's own life and writings, then ask for volunteers to commit to the program and train them that afternoon. Ellsworth said the program has reached over 17 million people and uses presentations, professional trainings and community events to replace violence and bullying with a culture of respect and compassion.
"The presenter is going to train the staff members immediately following the assembly to follow through with the sustainable piece, which is the Friends of Rachel Club, and that club is going to be made up of student volunteers who want to do community service projects for the schools, maintain a positive atmosphere, and just really step up the character level and component of what makes Alcona great," she said.
Ellsworth hopes community involvement will help keep the program alive after the assemblies are over, continuing the work already begun by the school's anti-bullying task force over the summer. That "task force," made up of a handful of staff and community members from Alcona Health Center and the PTO, has recommended amendments to the student handbook and discussed their observations in classrooms and hallways on professional development days, but Ellsworth said Rachel's Challenge will expand their effort to create "a culture and climate change" in the school.
"The kids' culture is equally as important as curriculum, if not more so," she said. "Instead of feeling left out, (it's) the ability to feel that you belong to something. That's the difference between (it and) anti-bullying. It's not pointing fingers anymore, it's including people."
What: Rachel's Challenge, a student empowerment/anti-bullying assembly
When: 7 p.m., Jan. 8, 2013
Where: Alcona High School auditorium
She sent flyers to students' homes just before winter break and also invited Alpena, Hillman and Tawas to attend, though she does not expect to hear back from them until after winter break. For more information, visit www.rachelschallenge.org or call 877-895-7060.
Andrew Westrope can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5693.