By Kristina Houck
Growing up, Spencer attended eight different schools. He had trouble making friends and he experimented with drugs. Now a senior at a local high school, Spencer plans to join the U.S. Navy Reserves and study graphic design after graduation.
“I was pretty lost and alone,” said Spencer during a presentation at Earl Warren Middle School. He talked openly about being arrested for drug possession. “But it doesn’t have to be that rough. I found positive influences.”
Spencer was one of several high school students who visited seventh- and eighth-grade English classrooms and talked about positive influences June 3 and 4 at Earl Warren. Students from Canyon Crest Academy, San Dieguito Academy and Torrey Pines High School participated in the two-day event, which was organized by members of Earl Warren’s Friends of Rachel Club.
“They’re so wonderful and open and genuine,” said English teacher Cheryl Yoshida after one of the presentations. “These kids really do worry about high school, so I think it’s a great bridge to make those connections.”
School counselor Lisa Curry, a handful of teachers and a number of Earl Warren students launched the Friends of Rachel Club after the nonprofit organization, Rachel’s Challenge, hosted a school-wide assembly at the school earlier this year.
In honor of Rachel Scott, the first murder victim of the Columbine High School massacre, the organization and its clubs aim to create safe, connected school environments where learning and teaching are maximized.
With the club nearing the end of its first year, Yoshida plans to grow the group and model it after Torrey Pines High School’s PALS (Peer Assistant Listeners) Program. Next year, club members will host more events and actively welcome new students to the school.
“Instead of pointing out all the negatives, we focus on the positives and what we can do to make everyone feel included and respected,” said Yoshida, who serves as advisor of the roughly 25-member student club.
To further its mission, the club promotes a positive message every month. May’s theme was “positive influences.” Club members invited students from local high schools to the campus to talk about their positive influences and how they help support them academically and personally.
Seventh grader James Singer, whose older brother is a freshman at Torrey Pines, said he learned that “if you do something bad, you can recover from it.”
“Their best advice was to always keep going and do things that you want to do,” added seventh grader Mikayla Azcue, who is looking forward to playing volleyball at Torrey Pines.
“You don’t need to feel alone,” Yoshida said. “You have opportunities to make connections with really great people. You are supported here, at Earl Warren, and you’re going to be supported at your high school. There’s a lot to look forward to.”
For more information about Friends of Rachel clubs, visit http://www.rachelschallenge.org/big-picture/programs/middle-and-high-school/for-clubs/