Educators at the three Cranston middle schools, Park View, Hugh B. Bain and Western Hills, have been working together to bring the Rachel's Challenge character development program to Cranston. Thanks to a recent award of $2,000 from ING's Unsung Hero grant, the group is getting closer to their goal of a late fall presentation of Rachel's Challenge.
But they’re not there yet.
The group currently consists of Dawn Giarrusso at Western Hills and John Macera and Leslie LeFebvre at Park View, as well as School Resource Officer Kevin Denneny, Principals Anthony Corrente and Josepth Rotz and Park View Assistant Principal Michael Crudale.
"This has been in the works for a couple of years, but the biggest problem has been getting the funding to get it off the ground. It's very expensive," said Macera. "Our focus has been to get a one-day assembly for each of the three middle schools to see, along with a student training session and a parent presentation in the evening."
The cost for the basic level program is $4,000, or $3,600 if Cranston can connect with another district close by who is running the same presentation, a discount presenters offer to try to help districts defray event costs. Many of the nearby Rhode Island districts have seen the program already and currently the closest district hosting Rachel's Challenge is roughly one hour away in Massachusetts.
Nearby Lincoln Public Schools hosted the event in October 2010 after their teachers, administrators and staff members were shown the presentation the August prior.
"The program was so moving and so compelling that when Craig Scott concluded his presentation, there was barely a sound in the high school auditorium," said Superintendent Georgia Forunato in a press release at that time.
Giarrusso applied for the ING grant on behalf of the group, and was thrilled when she received notification that they'd reached the semi-finalist status, earning them $2,000. In October, the group will find out if they are one of just three finalist applications that will receive additional funds.
The next hurdle is finding a venue that can house large groups of students. The current plan is to have Western Hills view the program separately while Bain and Park View watch it together, due to the sizes of the student bodies at the schools. The group has been in contact with the Park Theatre, and the tentative plan is to have the program there.
In addition to finding a venue, transportation from the schools to that venue comes with a cost as well, and could run them upwards of $1,000.
With costs like these, it begs the question why these educators are so intent on bringing Rachel's Challenge to Cranston.
Many of them have seen it, having specifically taken a trip to view it to see if it was something Cranston students could benefit from. Once having viewed the presentation themselves, they knew it was worth their efforts.
"Rachel Scott was the first person killed at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999. Her acts of kindness and compassion, coupled with the contents of her six diaries, have become the foundation for one of the most life-changing school programs in America. Rachel's Challenge exists to inspire, equip and empower every person to create a permanent positive culture change in their school and community by starting a chain reaction of kindness and compassion," Giarrusso wrote in her ING grant application.
When submitting the application, Giarrusso also noted that students would have the opportunity to sign a banner, showing their support for Rachel’s Challenge.
“If we are able to secure additional funding, we also hope to host the Chain Reaction program the following day, which would provide six hours of leadership training for 100 students and 25 faculty members,” she said.
According to the Rachel's Challenge website, 160,000 students do not go to school each day because they are bullied, teased and harassed. Rachel's Challenge aims to create safer learning environments and eliminate the fears of those students.
The group feels that the program, described on the website as a series of student-empowering programs, would fit in well with the character development program "Positive Behavioral Intervention Supports (PBIS)" already in place across the district, including the three middle schools. Each middle school also utilizes a peer group called Project RESPECT, which helps to spread the anti-bullying and diversity message. The Project RESPECT groups will be an integral part of the process when it comes time to disseminate the messages from the presentation throughout the rest of the school year.
"Bullying is a problem that affects millions of students. Because parents, teachers and other adults in the community don't always see it, they may not understand how extreme bullying can get," Giarrusso said. "This program will teach parents and other members of the community ways in which to identify students who are being bullied, and educate them on how to effectively handle these issues."
According to the website, Rachel's family believes in the power of her message. In high school, Rachel was known for reaching out to students who were different or were picked on by others.
Shortly before her death, she 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.”
The Cranston educators who have worked fervently to bring Rachel's Challenge to their students know that it will make a difference in their schools as well.
If you are interested in helping to bring Rachel's Challenge to Cranston, contact Dawn Giarrusso at firstname.lastname@example.org.