This year, Huntingdon Area Middle School and High School will start a new program call Rachel’s Challenge, designed to encourage students to start a “chain reaction of kindness and compassion,” according to the program’s website.

“Our overall goal is to connect this to our positive, school-wide initiatives,” said Fred Foster, district superintendent. “It fits in with the program we already have and gets a little deeper.”

He said it is not so much an anti-bullying program as a program focused on acts of kindness, following in the footsteps of Rachel Joy Scott.

Rachel’s Challenge is based on the life of Rachel Joy Scott, who was killed in the Columbine High School Shooting in 1999. However, Rachel had a strong impact on her community through her acts of kindness, and her father, Darrell Scott, carried on that legacy by starting Rachel’s Challenge, a non-profit organization.

The organization seeks to make “schools safer, more connected places where bullying and violence are replaced with kindness and respect; and where learning and teaching are awakened to their fullest,” according to the website.

This is the first year that the school will offer the program, but they first heard about it several years ago.

“We’ve done other positive, school-wide, anti-bullying measures but last year some of our counselors visited TIU11 (Tuscarora Intermediate Unit 11), and Darrell Scott was in the area,” Foster said. Foster added that they had also been talking with their social workers and performed some surveys and found that they needed to focus more on mental health and mental awareness.

“We chose this program based on our learners, and we’ll try to establish and run it for the kids in our district,” Foster said.

The event will start Aug. 27 at the middle school and Aug. 28 at the high school. He said it will be partnered with the back to school events, with assemblies during the morning, space for deeper investment in the afternoon and an evening event for parents to join.

“We don’t want to just have an assembly and move on, but take the message and build it deeper into our current programs that we have,” he said. He explained that the assembly will bring in people from Rachel’s Challenge to speak at the assembly. Students are then invited to start a club promoting these elements in partnership with the teachers.

“There will be some folks in here to train our people during the day,” Foster said, adding, “Then it is up to us to run (the group).”

The program’s website says the event encourages students to “show compassion, learn from their mistakes and forgive themselves and others.”

The evening will invite the parents to join in on the program.

“That evening is when the parents of the community will be invited to see what the challenge is and what it means for them,” Foster said.

Foster says they hope the club will see a large involvement.

“We hope to get more kids involved, and we hope it becomes a club and continues to build,” he said. “We want to be able to continue to sustain this as part of our natural climate within the school system.”

Foster hopes parents will also get involved.

“If people have questions or want to be a part of it, they should let the staff know at the building level so we can add them to our list of folks who want to be part of our efforts here,” he said. “We are excited about it for our school and our learners.”

Jesse can be reached at dnews@huntingdondailynews.com.

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