The stories started much the same.
"A kid would walk by and point and say stuff because I was a new kid."
"People started making fun of me because I was different."
Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry
Friends of Rachel
Above, Beaty Warren Middle School students (from left) Joe Greene, Nick Gorton, and Elliot Neal, explain their group’s list of problems at Beaty.
At right, A group of girls at Beaty Warren Middle School students create a list of problems they see at Beaty during a “targeted acts of kindness” campaign.
"People were making fun of me because I was new."
"When I first came here, I always went home crying."
But most of them ended with a message of hope.
"There were people that stood up for me. I'm glad they did that."
"In third grade, my friends helped me out."
"These two kids were bullying me. Three kids started yelling at them to stop. They stood up for me."
"They stood up for me."
"My teacher told them to stop. I was very grateful."
Several students offered their personal experiences during a training session for students interested in becoming leaders in Rachel's Challenge.
The campaign, according to Randall Kohn, a presenter with Rachel's Challenge, is "groups of students dedicated to making a positive impact."
It is not an anti-bullying program. "We're not anti anything," he said. "We don't curse the darkness, we shine the light."
"If someone is acting like a bully, it's usually because: they are afraid; they are going through a rough time; nobody has ever reached out to them," Kohn said. "If you were alone in a room full of people, do you think you might get bitter? Do you think you might take that out on other people? I think you might."
"Rachel understood that what we go through has an impact an our lives," he said.
The program honors Rachel Joy Scott, who was killed in the Columbine High School shootings.
"These strategies are based on Rachel's philosophies," Kohn said.
Shortly before her death, Rachel 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."
Kohn demonstrated some strategies that students can use if they witness bullying:
The pep talk - pull the person acting like a bully aside and ask them what's wrong because "I know you're better than that."
Run interference - "It doesn't matter if you talk to the person who is acting like a bully or the person who is being bullied, just change the topic."
Intercept - "Grab and go the other direction. The point is to get that person who is being victimized away."
Blow the whistle - "Tell an adult."
Kohn had students break into groups and come up with problems they see in the school that need to be changed. The problems ranged from bullying and vandalism to cliques and bus drama.
Students then had to come up with programs that addressed those problems: high-five Friday, reach out day, kind coupon, kindness raffle, and trust obstacle course.
The learning did not end after one day of training. Beaty is starting a Friends of Rachel (FOR) Club that will meet once per week.
"There's no such thing as too many people being kind," Kohn said.