GASTONIA, N.C. -- Gaston County Schools and United Way of Gaston County have launched a school district and community anti-bullying campaign called Rachel s Challenge.

The nationally recognized bullying prevention program was developed around the story of Rachel Scott, the first victim in the Columbine High School tragedy.

Sponsored through a $57,500 grant from the United Way of Gaston County, it will be the first district-wide initiative on the East Coast, officials said. The program will serve 31,000 students in 55 schools.

Many systems have implemented this in one or two or four or five schools, Gaston Schools Superintendent Reeves McGlohon said during the campaign kickoff Wednesday at Hunter Huss High. We think it s significant we re implementing this in all 55 schools. We think the program has tremendous potential.

Melissa Balknight, assistant superintendent for student support services, said the school system has focused on the problem for years and has been able to decrease bullying incidents.

Rachel s Challenge is one more tool for dealing with bullying, she said.

The focus of the program is to empower students and adults to combat bullying and feelings of isolation and despair by creating a culture of kindness and compassion.

In addition to staff training and school activities, the program will also focus on partnerships with faith-based and civic organizations to educate families and citizens about the role of community support networks for victims of bullying.

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