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Batavia schools use clubs, presentations to fight bullying

Rotolo Middle School staff members Coraleigh Heidgen left Renee Christiansen discuss new FOR club Tuesday's Rachel's Challenge program. | Denise

Rotolo Middle School staff members Coraleigh Heidgen, left, and Renee Christiansen discuss the new FOR club at Tuesday's Rachel's Challenge program. | Denise Linke~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: October 23, 2013 6:19AM

BATAVIA — At the end of School District 101’s final Rachel’s Challenge presentation, there was hardly a dry eye in the Batavia Fine Arts Centre.

As the last images of 17-year-old Columbine High School shooting victim Rachel Scott faded from the screen, most of the 300-plus spectators were wiping away tears, while a few people were openly weeping.

“I cried, and this is my eighth time seeing this,” said Batavia High School teacher Cheryl Wyller, who organized the two-day event at Batavia High School and Rotolo Middle School.

Many people who attended the community presentation were parents whose children had seen the program at school earlier in the week.

“I really didn’t know what to expect,” said Wayne Gullickson. “I’m just here to listen to what my eighth-grade son listened to so that I can help answer his questions about it. He said it was very moving.”

The first part of the documentary, presented with comments by Rachel’s Challenge foundation spokesman Mike Dorsey, depicted the shootings with video surveillance footage and recordings of 911 calls. Rachel’s brother Craig, who was one of the students trapped in the school library when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold entered and opened fire, described how the pair took aim at him and two of his friends as they hid beneath a table. One of those friends died, while the other was wounded and Craig emerged uninjured. Dorsey asked parents in the audience to send any young children with them to wait with teachers in the hallway before he played that section.

The documentary then presented the program’s five “challenges” to promote a non-violent, anti-bullying culture, along with the sections of Rachel’s essays and diary entries from which they’re drawn. Those challenges are to look for the best in others; dream big; choose positive influences; speak with kindness; and start a personal chain reaction of kind acts.

More than 100 students at both the middle school and the high school are already organizing FOR (Friends of Rachel) clubs to sponsor activities designed to promote the five challenges.

“The foundation offers some ideas and activities, but what the clubs do is really up to the students. Already they’ve come up with some really good ideas,” explained Rotolo Friends of Rachel Club sponsor Renee Christiansen, a social worker at the middle school.

She added that the club will have a chapter for each grade level, with members interacting both within their chapters and within the club as a whole. Some of the ideas students have suggested are encouraging all students to hand out notes of encouragement randomly in the halls during passing periods, making sure no one has to sit alone at lunch and formally pledging to accept the five challenges, she said.

Once the middle school and high school clubs are up and running, school district officials will consider adding the foundation’s Rachel’s Challenge program for elementary schools, said Superintendent Lisa Hichens. Officials plan to bring back the presentation to the middle school and high school every three or four years to make sure every student sees it, she added.

The district paid $3,500 in federal IDEA grant money for this week’s presentations, said Lisa Palese, director of student services.

“I’m glad this came here to Batavia,” asserted Board of Education member Jon Gaspar. “I hope the kids as well as their parents get as much out of it as I did.”

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