Sherando students take on positivity challenge

STEPHENS CITY – Families of students at Sherando High School took on Rachel’s Challenge after a nonprofit community presentation at the school’s auditorium on Wednesday night.

Earlier in the day, students at Sherando attended two assemblies with much of the same material that challenges them to look for the best in others, dream big, choose positive influences, speak with kindness and start their own chain reaction.

Presenter Mihyar Alnifaidy began the community presentation with an introduction of Rachel Scott as the first student to die during the 1999 Columbine school shootings. The program challenge focuses on the messages of compassion and kindness she lived through and wrote in her diaries and letters.

Alnifaidy encouraged those at the meeting to take the challenge themselves and start their own chain reaction.

Sherando Guidance Counselor Stephanie McGann spearheaded implementing the program alongside Assistant Principal Joanne Altendorf after reviewing how it had impacted James Wood High School two years ago.

McGann had led the program when she had worked at Fairfax schools and said the effects of the program were immediately evident.

“They were very receptive to it … discipline went down, reports of bullying went down,” she said.

After the assemblies during school on Wednesday, 25 faculty members and 100 students participated in Friends Of Rachel Club training sessions – and there are a number of students who wanted to sign up but had to join a waiting list. Hundreds of students signed a banner pledging themselves to Rachel’s Challenge, and those at the community meeting were able to add their signatures.

One program that McGann said the Sherando club already has plans for is a new student welcoming program for those that join the school later in the year. Students will give the new kids tours of the school and offer to sit with them during lunch to help them feel welcome.

Besides that, Altendorf said the faculty has new toolkits at their disposal for implementation in curriculum as well as material for faculty meetings.

“A lot of kids I talked to today said they had maybe felt isolated or felt excluded,” McGann said.

Although both Altendorf and McGann said that the program wasn’t proposed as any sort of reaction to bullying, the values of Rachel’s Challenge are universally applicable in a high school setting.

“We’ve already had teachers email and say they’ve already witnessed some of these acts of kindness, which is really empowering just to see how much the kids have already been touched by this,” Altendorf said.

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com