FLORENCE, S.C. — This fall all Florence School District 1 students will participate in an interactive anti-bullying program the school board approved Thursday night.
The district will pay $22,000 to contract with the Colorado-based nonprofit Rachel’s Challenge to bring each school an assembly to focus on empowering students against bullying and imparting skills to show kindness to each other. The organization will also work with schools to set up student clubs to continually work to reduce bullying and help schools each create their own anti-bullying plan, which will include certain directives from the school district.
Assistant superintendent for instruction Randy Koon said research shows that having each school’s students and staff collaborate to create an anti-bullying plan tailored to their needs will make the program more effective.
Though the program is not listed in the top six of the anti-bullying programs available, Koon told the board last month that the others were incredibly expensive and that this program has always been at the top of the list.
Part of the reason is that board members Pat Gibson-Hye Moore and E.J. McIver have championed the program for years, continually bringing up the need to better address bullying in schools before it is too late, and sharing the transformative impact the particular program had on them.
“It hit home with us right away when we heard the program and video back in Mississippi at that conference more than two years ago,” McIver said last month. “I know Pat was crying, and you know me I was trying to be tough, but I was crying, too, just hearing about this young lady.”
Rachel’s Challenge is an organization founded in honor of 17-year-old Rachel Scott, who was the first student killed in the Columbine High School shooting in 1999. The program is based on her writings and “legacy of reaching out to those who were different, who were picked on by others, who were new at her school.” According to the organization’s website “Rachel's Challenge includes a series of student empowering, educator motivating programs and strategies called the Awaken the Learner Five-step School Improvement Process that equips students and adults to create and sustain safe, caring and supportive learning environments essential for academic achievement.”
Koon told the board that toward the end of the current school year, the district will survey all ninth-grade students to begin to get a handle on how prevalent bullying is in the districts’ schools. Then, to see the impacts of the program, the same survey will be administered again at the end of the 2014-2015 school year.
He said right now there isn’t much good data on bullying for administrators to work with, but that gathering information is part of the plan. He also noted that the board discipline committee is in the process of drafting policy changes that would specifically track bullying-related incidents in schools.
In several previous meetings Moore had expressed dismay at what she viewed as “feet dragging” on behalf of the board to adopt some sort of comprehensive plan. In January, she said “This is a serious matter, and we need to pick it up. Bullying is a serious matter. We are losing lives over bullying. We need to get going as soon as possible.”
Moore was not present at Thursday night’s meeting.
The board authorized $8,000 for the program to come from the current fiscal year’s budget and the remaining $14,000 from next year’s budget, which will see its first workshop on May 1.