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August 27, 2013

Rachel’s Challenge returns to Page Middle School

Sixth-graders will be introduced to the STAND FOR Page Club

By Andy Kozlowski
C & G Staff Writer

MADISON HEIGHTS — Last year, John Page Middle School formed a new club based on the teachings of the late Rachel Scott, aiming to promote a culture of kindness. The club spanned multiple sub-committees, run by students from all three grades.

This year, their work continues.

“Sometimes, people in leadership tend to shift directions like the wind,” said Doug Kelley, principal at Page. “One of the things I told our staff about a year and a half ago is, ‘Guys, this isn’t something we’re going to dabble in. If we’re going to do this on Year One, we’ll still be doing it on Year Five, unless there’s a compelling reason otherwise.”

Rachel Scott was the first victim in the 1999 Columbine High School massacre. In a two-page code of ethics she wrote for class, she explored the power of compassion.

“My definition of compassion is forgiving, loving, helping, leading and showing mercy for others,” Scott wrote. “I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion, then it will start a chain reaction of the same. People will never know how far a little kindness can go.”

Following her death, the nonprofit Rachel’s Challenge formed to make good on her theory that kindness begets kindness. Its representatives travel the country, targeting schools in the hopes of turning the tide of bullying and bad behavior.

On the first full day at Page last year, Rachel’s Challenge held two presentations. The message resonated so strongly that it snowballed into a school-wide initiative: the STAND FOR Page Club. They will do it again the first week of school this year.

Page had already intended to start a STAND Club. An acronym for “Students Taking A New Direction,” the STAND Club would encourage positive choices among students. One part of Rachel’s Challenge is the creation of a FOR Club, or “Friends of Rachel.” So, the school simply combined the two concepts, and STAND FOR Page was born.

One of their goals is to end harassing behavior. “Harassing” is the key distinction, since bullying is only one form of harassment. While bullying is calculated cruelty, there are other types of mean behavior that may not be ill-intended but are hurtful all the same. Derogatory phrases like “that’s so gay,” for example, could be bandied about thoughtlessly and wound the feelings of someone who feels their sexual orientation is being attacked, leading to self-esteem issues and even suicide. 

STAND FOR Page wants to avoid a chain reaction of cruelty by making students aware of how their actions affect others. But the club also wants to promote positive thinking in general. To achieve all of this, they’ve split into seven committees, each student-led but overseen by a teacher or parent volunteer. These groups meet amongst themselves periodically, and the club as a whole meets four times a year.

There’s a welcoming committee, which eases new students into the school by giving them fun and informal tours that help them get to know the building, students and staff.

A marketing committee handles internal communications via posters and shout-outs on the PA system, while a media and communications committee reaches out to the Madison Heights community.

The large projects committee organizes school-wide events — a walk to memorialize the Columbine shootings, perhaps, or fundraisers for a cause.

The “Mix It Up” committee moves around students on certain lunch periods so they sit with people they don’t usually see, and it engages them with activities. The “Targets of Kindness” committee is all about targeting specific groups, like bus drivers or secretaries, with letters telling them how much they are appreciated.

Perhaps the most active committee is the “Chain of Kindness,” headed by art teacher Darla Gower. Every student in the school wrote down one act of kindness they intended to do and added their paper letter “link” to a chain that quickly reached 160 feet in just a couple of weeks.

“Our Chain of Kindness wound up exceptionally huge at year’s end, wrapping around the entire school,” Kelley said.

He also noted how the STAND FOR Page Club was the centerpiece of the Lamphere district’s May board, held at Page.

“It was a powerful presentation,” Kelley said. “You could certainly tell that our kids are genuinely thinking about others, which ultimately addresses bullying. So I think our mission was accomplished — I really do. By the end of the year, Rachel’s Challenge was a great thing to bring to the school, and the club a great extension. It’s not a one-shot thing; it’s something we will continue to do.”

Rick Lewis, from the Madison Heights Community Family Coalition, said he has noticed a change in the tone of the school environment.

“When we started last year, they wanted to build a culture of compassion, of caring, of communication, and they’ve definitely started to do those things,” Lewis said. “Change is kind of like a ripple effect. Now, we’re introducing a new group of sixth-graders to this philosophy, and as it grows, it changes the entire culture. I think, this year, we’ll really see it take off.”  

John Page Middle School is located at 29615 Tawas Street and can be reached at (248) 589-3428.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Andy Kozlowski at akozlowski@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1104.