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A challenge accepted

Among the members of Rosemount Middle School's Rachel's Challenge group are, from left to right in the front row, Kassie Klasen, Brooke Kiehl, Ali McDonald and Danielle Poole. In the back row, from left, are Jenny Wahl, Abby Monn, Molly Reber, Ally Baker, Katelyn Derby and Anna Casperson. Below, students present principal Mary Thompson with a quilt they made to thank RMS staff members.

A group of Rosemount Middle School students is trying to make the world around them better one smile, one song and one batch of cookies at a time.

The students are members of Rachel's Challenge, a nationwide organization inspired by the life of Rachel Scott, the first student killed 10 years ago at Columbine High School. The RMS students weren't even in school then, but when a representative of Rachel's Challenge spoke in Rosemount last November the message of making everyone feel welcome and sticking up for kids who are bullied resonated with them.

Local chapters of Rachel's Challenge launched at both RMS and Rosemount High School following last year's presentation.

"Something kind of clicked," said Ally Baker, one of the RMS eighth graders who signed on after the presentation.

"It kind of made you want to do more, because everybody said she was a great person," added Abby Monn, another eighth grader.

Students in all grades at RMS have been hard at work ever since. The students meets during their activity time during the day, and students split into groups to plan activities. Posters in the school's hallways encourage students to do nice things for their classmates and a construction-paper chain hangs near the school's office is made up of links that carry descriptions of random acts of kindness either carried out or witnessed by students. Among the behaviors recognized are baking cookies, helping with homework and providing a shoulder for another student to cry on.

There have been bigger projects, too. Students made a quilt to express their gratitude for the school's teachers, and they braved bitterly cold temperatures last winter to sing a song of gratitude to their bus drivers. Student Katelyn Derby wrote new words the students sang to the tune of Jingle Bells: "You are great! You are great! You are really great!"

"I think they really liked it," Monn said.

Students have passed out inspiring quotes in the school cafeteria, collected blankets for a children's hospital and raised $750 for Dakota Woodlands, a Dakota County shelter for homeless families.

"We're trying to find different ways to help around the building," said Cindy Briscoe, the RMS teacher who serves as an advisor for Rachel's Challenge. "There was a group of girls that de-iced around the building."

The group isn't all about projects, though. It's also about getting students to pay more attention to the students around them, and to reach out when it looks like someone needs a hand. Eighth grader Jenny Wahl took an example straight from last November's presentation when she saw a classmate sitting alone at lunch and sat down to eat with her.

"We just struck up a conversation with her," Wahl said.

The students say even just smiling more in the hallways is making a difference around RMS. They say the school seems friendlier now. It seems like students are being nicer to each other.

"I think it's been inspiring for Rosemount Middle School," Briscoe said.

Many of the students who are involved in Rachel's Challenge this year at RMS will move on to Rosemount High School next year, but the group is already busy spreading the word. They've reached out to district elementary schools to spread their message and get younger students interested in getting involved.