The cafeteria at Ballenger Creek Middle School seemed fairly normal during its last lunch period on Thursday. The room was filled with a cheerful cacophony of chattering eighth-graders at long tables dotted with brightly colored lunchboxes.
A group of students was waiting for the end of lunch to take on an unusual task — cleaning up after their fellow students.
Four student officers of the middle school’s “Rachel’s Challenge” club led an effort to tidy up as a thank-you to the school’s custodial staff. The club is part of a program named after Rachel Scott, a victim of the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999. The program is meant to help prevent bullying and encourage students to be kind to one another.
Laren Anderson, a counselor at the middle school and a club adviser, said one goal of Rachel’s Challenge is to start a “chain reaction of kindness.” Every student at Ballenger Creek, she said, has received training to carry out the challenge.
The club’s officers, all eighth-graders, started talking a while back about recognizing the work of the schools’ six custodial staff members, Anderson said. Recently, the students also noticed the work custodians did to clear away the January blizzard’s hefty remains.
The school’s current eighth-graders, Anderson said, are “amazing and conscientious and very insightful about what’s going on in this building.”
The project didn’t stop there. The students decided to clean up after two more lunch periods for sixth- and seventh-graders. They will also host a lunch for the day custodial staff and a dinner for the evening staff.
Volunteers from the sixth, seventh and eighth grades, as well as teachers, pitched in on Thursday to help the officers take on cleaning tasks, such as taking out the trash and wiping tables. Students added their names to a large banner that said “We [heart] the BCMS Custodial Crew.”
That cleanup was to thank the custodial staff and give them a break, said Nadia Rahman, one of the club’s officers, “because we know that whenever we call the custodians or whenever we tell them to, like, help us, they’re always there and they do a lot for us ’cause lunches can be messy.”
Other students eating in the cafeteria were asked to participate, too.
“We kind of told them to stay on the [down] low and not make too big of a mess because usually there is a giant mess everywhere,” Nadia said.
Anderson said it’s been “eye-opening” to watch club members “genuinely take care of” people who usually take care of them.
Custodian Lisa Burras said the help was much appreciated and well-timed because the other daytime custodian member was out that day. Burras’ job includes cleaning the cafeteria, cleaning the classrooms and taking out the trash.
Burras, who has been at the school for 10 years, said the students’ gesture was unique.
“We’ll get a couple of ’em say ‘Good job’ or ‘Thanks for doing this or that,’ but nothing like this,” she said.
Voting for Classmates4Life videos
The videos are in for the Classmates4Life contest, and now it’s your chance to vote.
To participate in the contest, Frederick County Public Schools students at all levels could submit videos of about 30 seconds to one minute long that focused on the dangers of drug abuse and encouraged fellow students to avoid illegal substances. The videos were due Feb. 16.
About 90 videos are posted on the Classmates4Life YouTube channel. To vote, students, staff and members of the public can click on the “thumbs up” icon below their favorite video. A panel of judges will review the submissions.
The Red Carpet Awards Gala on March 2 will include an awards ceremony, screenings of all submitted videos and a resource fair about preventing drug abuse.
The event will start at 5:45 p.m. at the FSK Holiday Inn.