The chain reaction has started at Humphrey and Jane Addams.
Nearly 100 specially-selected students from the two Bolingbrook middle schools Wednesday embarked on a mission to create and sustain a “culture of compassion” within the school and the community.
“It’s going to take all of you working together,” said David Hills, a presenter for Rachel’s Challenge, a nationwide campaign launched following the death of Rachel Joy Scott at Columbine High School more than 14 years ago. “But if we cared about each other, your schools and the community will be a little bit better.”
Hills, in town for all-school Rachel’s Legacy assemblies at both Jane Addams and Humphrey, as well as an evening community gathering at Jane Addams, spent a significant amount of time helping the 100 students become what he termed “the foundation” of the formation of a Rachel’s Challenge Community by launching a “Friends of Rachel” Club.
“This is more than a service club. This is a way of life,” he said. “This is a way to be a leader. It’s all about how you conduct yourself. Being a leader is doing the right thing even when you think no one is paying attention.”
Hills guided students through small group discussions to determine what they would like to change in their schools. Among the possibilitiesstudents came up with were physical and verbal bullying, bad behavior and attitudes, prejudice, and lack of respect.
“If you want to change these things, you’ll have to get out of your comfort zone,” he said.
The Rachel’s Challenge presenter suggested several strategies for “creating and sustaining a culture of compassion:”
Regarding bullies (“People aren’t bullies. They just act like bullies” because they’re either afraid, they’re going through a rough time or no one has ever reached out to them):
- Give the bully a pep talk (nicely “put them on the spot”)
- Run interference (“put yourself into the situation and take all the eyes off what’s going on. Take over the conversation”)
- Intercept (“give someone a lifeline…a hand in getting out of there”)
- Blow the whistle (“sometimes things happen where you need to tell someone. You’re not being a snitch. The worst thing to do is nothing. By doing nothing, nothing will change.”)
To create a culture of compassion in other areas, he proposed:
- A new student project that provides ongoing welcoming support for any new students at the school
- A targeted letters project through which students hand write thank you notes to bus drivers, lunchroom workers, janitorial staff, teachers or anyone else who works for the school district
- A social media project in which each student writes 10 positive tweets, posts or texts every time he or she sees a negative tweet, post or text
- A massive campaign to create an overwhelming “atmosphere of kindness” in the school with posters, banners, sayings, etc. “everywhere you walk.”
After meeting in small groups again, the 100 or so students came up with specific ideas they will implement as both schools strive to meet Rachel’s Challenge.
“As you go out and make these changes, remember that it’s going to be tough. You may have some setbacks. You may make some mistakes. But you have to keep moving forward,” Hills said. “Be a leader. Make it a way of life by doing the right things … always.”