After learning about a new school climate initiative called Rachel's Challenge and Rachel Scott, one of the victims of the 1999 Columbine High School shooting, more than 65 Plymouth Whitemarsh High School (PWHS) students came together to create a Friends of Rachel (FOR) Club at the school.
"We had such a powerful assembly about Rachel's Challenge that really hit the hearts of everyone, and then a select group of students met after the assembly and talked about spreading kindness throughout the school," said PWHS Senior Lenny Brenner. "I think it was really a great thing to bring to the school to make things more positive overall."
In the PWHS Large Group Instruction Room, the new club members split into small groups to brainstorm ideas for starting a "chain reaction of kindness and compassion."
"My favorite part was interacting with people who I don't normally interact with and coming up with ideas to spread happiness and kindness, which is something that I love doing," said PWHS Senior Ruby Bender.
The initial group of students for the FOR Club represents a cross-section of the school, including student leaders and athletes, as well as students who may have had behavior challenges in the past.
"This is such an organic and authentic type of way to give back, and it can be so simple," said Club Advisor and PWHS Social Studies Teacher Jen Hannold. "I think that can be so empowering to kids from all different walks of life. There are a lot of different avenues for kids to make connections here in a way that's meaningful, but not overly stressful, and I think that's what's going to make this really powerful."
Representatives from each of the groups shared their ideas with the rest of the club to plant the seeds that will become the club's projects for the year.
"These students were phenomenal. Right from the beginning I could tell that they were really invested in what we're trying to do," said Matt Kendziera from Rachel's Challenge. "I have no doubt about it that this is going to make a huge impact on this school."
PWHS Principal Dr. Jason Bacani agreed. "We're really proud of our culture here at Plymouth Whitemarsh High School, however we can always look to get better," he said. "The students' ideas for sharing kindness and compassion were tremendous. It's not coming from the top down; it's coming from the kids. I think it's going to be successful, because they own it."'
The district-wide Rachel's Challenge initiative is funded by a grant from the Colonial School District Education Foundation.