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Duluth high school students unite to promote positive efforts

Efforts to reduce bullying at East and Denfeld high schools will culminate in the linking of two paper chains Wednesday before an annual student fundraising race.

Efforts to reduce bullying at East and Denfeld high schools will culminate in the linking of two paper chains Wednesday before an annual student fundraising race.

Key Club members and Students for the Future joined forces to hold "Race for Change," a 5K at Denfeld that raises scholarship money in honor of Denfeld's Matt Kero and East's Rachel Sandell and Clayton Deraas, all students who died in recent months.

Both high schools' students have taken up "Rachel's Challenge" to support a positive school climate. Rachel Scott was the first person killed in the

1999 Columbine High School shootings in Colorado. Her family spoke with students at both schools this year. Since then, students have been encouraged in classrooms to make a construction paper link each time they've done something that contributes to a positive chain reaction, said East sophomore Ingrid Holstrom. Students wrote what they did or just their name on a link and it was attached to a chain that has been hanging across the East atrium since December.

"The program taught us she (Scott) was about making everyone feel comfortable and welcome, and like they have a place," Holstrom said. "Even though small, you can make a big difference."

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Some of the acts described on the East chain, which is more than 100 yards long, include "talked to somebody new at school," "Invited a new student to sit with us at lunch" and "bought lunch for someone when they forgot their money."

Students at Denfeld did the same. Joining the two chains before the race, Holstrom said, "is a physical symbol of bringing Denfeld and East together, and the whole community. Sometimes we struggle with unity in our community, and it's a nice reminder for everyone."

The race began three years ago at Central High School to promote fitness and community, said Denfeld Key Club adviser and teacher Deb Wendling. Students from each Duluth high school raised money last year for Sandell, who died in October of cancer. Denfeld graduate Kero died in his sleep in August of natural causes, and East student Deraas died in August when he drowned.

The run/walk this year, held at Denfeld, brings in work done for Rachel's Challenge for the first time. The 4:30 p.m. run begins in Public Schools Stadium and is open only to students and staff, but Wendling said in the future she hopes to open it to the public. The event ends with a barbecue.

Wendling said she wants students to think of the day as a tradition to help keep the scholarship funds alive and to foster Scott's legacy of kindness.

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