Ponderosa Elementary in Billings School District 2 has embraced what could be considered an antidote to bullying and its approach is paying priceless dividends.
Pupils at the South Side school are inspired, equipped and empowered to create a permanent positive culture change in their school, business and community by starting a chain reaction of kindness and compassion.
The inspiration and empowerment is the result of the school’s participation in Rachel’s Challenge, a program designed to motivate, educate and bring positive change among young people. It is named after Rachel Joy Scott, 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 are the foundation for the program.
The results emanating from the school’s participation are impressive. Twenty-one of the school’s pupils were honored recently for their consistent kindness to, and acceptance of, fellow classmates and adults.
Each quarter, Ponderosa holds an assembly to showcase one kind child from each class, along with a chain of kindnesses each class has made to recognize all of the benevolent acts students are doing in their classrooms. The child selected is a student the teacher believes consistently and spontaneously showcases kind and accepting behaviors without expecting something in return.
The value of the program is clearly evident and yet immeasurable. It helps create a safe learning environment for all students by re-establishing civility and delivering proactive antidotes to school violence and bullying.
It also improves academic achievement by engaging students’ hearts, heads and hands in the learning process.
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It also provides students with social and emotional education that is both color-blind and culturally relevant.
It is a powerful program that is quickly gaining a toehold among the pupils.
Eleven-year-old Matthew O’Brien, a sixth-grader, was one of those honored recently. “I work very hard to be kind and be nice to everybody in our school,” the youngster said. “I never intend to offend anybody.”
By pledging to help their classmates, teachers and neighbors, these youngsters inspire others to do the same. Together they make a difference in their school and in their neighborhoods.
They are building a culture of service, citizenship and respect — the ultimate shield against bullying. They are also creating a momentum that will help change America one soul at a time.
Bullies and their acts of cowardice often grab headline attention. Not this time.