Pretty much anyone over the age of 20 remembers April 20 and how they first heard the news that high school seniors Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold had opened fire on their classmates at Columbine High School in Colorado. The story captivated the nation, and we wept with the families of Columbine as they buried 12 students and one teacher.
For the students at Ferri Middle School, Columbine is a distant concept. They didn’t witness the tragedy, or watch the grief of a community play out on the television.
Unfortunately, though, their generation is all too familiar with the concept of bullying. School violence, in the wake of Columbine, became an everyday reality, and one that in many ways shapes the experiences of students today. Ten years ago, there weren’t School Resource Officers. Ten years ago, there weren’t student clubs dedicated to student safety. And 10 years ago, there were no Bully Prevention Walks. They can’t remember Columbine, but they are no less affected by the massacre. They are products of a society saturated in violence. Rachel’s Challenge brought the message home. Rachel was just like them, a regular teenager. Her story, brought to Ferri by her friends and family, is proof that if we allow bullying to happen, no one is safe from the consequences.
There is good news and bad news to be gleaned from this. The bad news is that the problems have reached a boiling point. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there were 33 school-associated violent deaths between July 2009 and June 2010. The teenage suicide rate is shocking, with suicide being the third leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24. For every suicide, there are as many as 200 attempts.
The good news is that these frightening statistics have brought violence and bullying to the forefront. Educators are trained to spot the warning signs and students are reminded constantly that they have someone to talk to if needed.
The better news is that students are putting that moral into action.
They heard Rachel’s story, they’ve listened to the warnings from their teachers and now they’re making the fight their own with events like Monday’s Bully Prevention Walk, JAGS and Friends of Rachel. If the seeds planted at Ferri are allowed to grow at the high school level and beyond, the story of Columbine will no longer be the one that shapes the experience of students in Johnston.