New Friends

Fort Dodge Middle School has started a Friends of Rachel Club. More than 40 students attended a presentation Thursday to sign up for the club.

Rachel’s Challenge, adopted by the Fort Dodge Community School District in January, is a nationwide movement based on the writings of Columbine victim Rachel Joy Scott. Scott wrote in her journals about inclusion and starting a “chain reaction of kindness.”

“Rachel’s Challenge is all about being kind in your school and fostering kindness among our students and faculty,” Susan Hrabak, FDMS counselor, said. “That’s how it started, and it’s spread to our school.”

As student ambassador, Eli Asay oversees the FOR Club.

“Our main goal is to create permanent cultural change within our school,” he said. “In order to do that, we need to create an atmosphere of kindness, and that is pretty much making everyone feel safe within the school.”

The issue is an important one to Asay.

“I’m actually a new student here. I came here halfway through seventh-grade year,” he said. “So I feel like everyone deserves to feel welcome in school.”

Asay is excited about the start of the club.

“I think it’s going to be a great thing for the school, and it’s going to be very helpful,” he said.

According to Hrabak, Rachel’s Challenge has a different impact at the middle school level.

“Our students are at a different maturity level, and so what they can understand is more than an elementary student and less than a high school student,” she said. “We are gearing our students, in our school grades five through eight, so they can be more cohesive. Five through eight is a large range of age.”

Ed Birnbaum, FDMS principal, applauded the start of the FOR Club.

“I think it’s fantastic, especially with this being a new building, a new school, two new staffs coming together even though they’re veteran teachers and have been around the district a long time,” he said. “It’s a new environment for the students whether they went to Fair Oaks last year or an elementary or Phillips. Hopefully, it turns out to be a very powerful thing to send a good message to our kids and a good model for them.”

The school district, Birnbaum said, advocates positive behavior among its students.

“This is one avenue we want to utilize, is the FOR club, to spread that kind of message for our students,” he said. “It is a new experience for them and it is a big building, and they are going to have to increase some of those behaviors and mentalities so we get a positive culture for our students in the building.”