Rachel Joy Scott was by all accounts an extraordinary girl. When she was killed in the Columbine massacre at age 17, she left behind 6 diaries full of thoughts and stories. She wrote that it was important to reach the unreached through acts of kindness and compassion. That idea has been a guiding light for groups of middle schools students that call themselves Friends of Rachel. McKenna is a Friend of Rachel at Wachter Middle School in Bismarck.
Mckenna: One of the main things that people really remember about Rachel is that she was a really good person, and she was a friend to everybody. They’ve now started these little clubs—Friends of Rachel—and it’s like her legacy lives on through us. We try to re-do what Rachel did, to follow her actions and be a friend to everybody like Rachel was.
One of Rachel’s drawings shows a pair of hands with her legacy written in a single sentence.
J: And it says that these hands belong to Rachel Joy Scott and will someday touch millions of people’s hearts.
Dr. Dottie Schmelling is the counselor at Wachter. She says the students who are invited by their teachers to be in Friends of Rachel care about everyone. They have what is called social radar.
DS: They are the eyes and ears of the school, and they will be the first to know if someone is being bullied or ostracized or not having a good day.
Social exclusion has been identified as a form of bullying because it tends to be habitual, and geared toward students who don’t feel they can change the situation.
[Sounds of students in lunch room]
It’s noon on Tuesday. A group of 7th and 8th graders are eating lunch together in a small conference room. They’re all members of Friends of Rachel. They meet every Tuesday to talk about the students who are struggling socially at Wachter. Dr. Schmelling guides the group and opens up topics for discussion. Like what it takes to go out of one’s comfort zone to help others. Today she asks a more basic question.
DS: Do you want to talk about what some of the things are we’ve come up with of ways to help out when you see one person’s getting picked on?
Mason: I’m Mason and usually if we sit by someone the first time, we talk to them more in the hallways if we see them and say “Hi, how’s it going?” And sometimes we will become better friends than we thought we would be, and that feels good.
Serena: A part of being Friends of Rachel is finding that one kid that’s kind of left out and, like Mason said, just being comfortable with bringing them into a group and making them feel comfortable in school.
Angeline: I’m Angeline and sometimes it’s hard to do those things, but if you take another friends with you who’s in Friends of Rachel, it gets easier every time; and then leading up to the end of the year, you have enough guts to do it by yourself.
S: If you are in one of the classes that they are in where they get bullied or nobody’s really friends with them, you be the person who will jump in and be partners with them and try to include them and make them more happy and comfortable in class.
One group that gets special attention from the Friends of Rachel are new students, like Natalia. Not only was she a new student, but she started at Wachter in the middle of the year after her family moved to Bismarck from Watford City.
Narrator: Describe that feeling of walking into school for the first time that first day.
Natalia: I guess there was a lot of people, and it was overwhelming. There was a lot of talking going on.
The Friends of Rachel didn’t tell her she was being singled out for extra attention. They just approached her as a friend. To show her to classes and to invite her to lunch–small gestures that made a big difference.
You can find a link to Rachel’s Challenge on the Stand Up ND Facebook page. For Prairie Public and the Stand Up ND project. I’m Meg Luther Lindholm.