Fly me to the moon


As part of Leesburg High School’s Anti-Bullying Program, you have a chance to go—well, send photos of yourself—to the moon!

Bullying is a type of behavior that is aggressive and mean, and no school is an exception to this problem. Like most high schools, Leesburg High School deals with the issue almost daily. With the help of members of local Rotary clubs, the school’s Anti-Bullying Program has shown great promise within the scope of one year.

Rotary International is involved with almost every high school through the Interact program. For students ages 12-18, the program helps them develop leadership skills and learn how valuable “Service Above Self” can be. The club at LHS is active and always growing. 

When Rotarian David van de Velde, founder of the group, realized he needed student leaders for his anti-bullying campaign to be a success, he knew he would find them among Interact members like Jalen Hodge, who does frequent public speaking and counsels fellow students. Jalen’s enthusiasm and love for the program is evident in everything she does.

“I’m glad I’ve gotten to be part of such a great program,” Jalen says. “I’m hoping it will last a long time and help lots of students. Students are willing to talk to administrators now, and that’s important. If they don’t feel safe talking to adults, it makes it worse.”

The program is Pledge Against Bullying. Each student signs a card that reads, “End Bullying Pledge, Leesburg High School.” Their signature is witnessed by another student and dated. These cards are put into plastic holders with chains so they can be attached to the student’s backpack and visible for all to see. David says the white tags attract attention and students ask about them, spreading the word.

David understood the campaign would never be successful without the help of students.

“If I speak to them, it goes in one ear and out the other, but hearing the same message from a peer—another student—makes an impact,” he says.

Ira Nodelman, also in the Leesburg Rotary Club-Noon, works with David on the project.

“The fact that we do this through clubs in the school means the school curriculum is not touched,” he says.

The mission statement of the Pledge Against Bullying is “to create and support an innovative new high and middle school club initiative to stop bullying before it starts.”

Leesburg High Principal Michael Randolph says getting students to report bullying is one of the biggest hurdles. In an effort to help students understand the school is now a safe zone, the administration brings the students involved in a bullying incident together to discuss what happened and get to the root of the problem with the hope of a positive outcome for them.

In an effort to keep students interested and excited about the anti-bullying campaign, David and the Rotarians are planning to send digital material to the moon on a microSD chip.

“The opportunity that our students now have to send their Pledge Against Bullying commitments to the moon is a unique chance for our students, and we are ecstatic that they are taking advantage of this experience,” Michael says.

“Now we need to pull in parents and teachers and other adults to be sure the program continues moving forward,” says David, founder of the group. “We’re going to send digital files of photos, essays, poems, letters, artwork, and memorials to the moon on a rocket.”

A Falcon Heavy rocket will be used to launch the collected digital material into space in the fall. There will be plenty of room for everyone who wishes to send an item. David and Ira have a 2 terabyte (2 trillion bytes) microSD chip for collecting digital content. The commercial rocket can do what NASA cannot because the space organization does not work with private customers.

“Students can write essays, send photos of mom and dad or in memory of a pet. Students who go to school and live within the city limits of Leesburg, including homeschoolers, can do this for free,” David says. “Remember, there has never been a school or student on the moon, but we are going to do that. We know that at least 95 percent of the people in Leesburg have a connection with a child here. This is their chance to help the child do something that’s never been done before.”

However, there is a condition to getting digital material included on the microSD chip. Each person who wants something added to the moonshot must include a sentence about one random act of kindness he or she has done.

“An example of that could be, ‘I took out the garbage without being asked,’ or ‘I helped my grandmother with yardwork,’” David says. “We want to promote people being kind and recognize them for their kindness.”

No material will go into space unless it has the random act of kindness noted on it. Participants may send their items to and they will be put onto the microSD chip. Start sending your items now. Students will need a parent’s signature on the photo or essay to ensure they have permission to send it on the rocket. There also will be a certificate to acknowledge participation in the project.

Another positive element of this project in these days of information being shared so easily is that nothing included in the project can be found anywhere electronically or on paper.

“No one can see it,” David says. “Nothing is searchable on the internet.”

The purpose of this huge project is to spread the word about the anti-bullying program and its successes. Many students tell David and Ira they feel safer and stronger at school because they know they can go to one of the students with the white “Anti-Bullying Program” badge on their backpack and that student will help. The student resource officer at Leesburg High School found that seeing students with no tags on their backpacks made the job a little easier to be aware of students who might be troublesome.

David says he spoke with a martial arts teacher recently and learned as many as 80 percent of martial arts students attend classes because they’ve been bullied. Gary Wayne, the instructor, is now promoting the program.

“Bullying is a universal problem,” says Ron Janssen, district governor for Rotary International. “That’s why we’re expanding the program to other counties in the state. We have also learned success is dependent on the school administration, law enforcement, students, and Rotary all working together, hand in hand, toward this common goal.”

Knowing what the moonshot means to students at LHS, as the pilot school, Michael says, “It is rare for students to have the opportunity to say that part of their high school legacy is having one of their commitments sent to the moon. However, the students of Leesburg High School now have that opportunity thanks to the Pledge Against Bullying Program.”

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” David adds. “Remember, the company carrying our cannister is also the company that took the Tesla up in a rocket. The actual flight will be streamed. We hope to see the module on the moon. Older people like us remember when they went to the moon the first time. This is just as exciting to me.”

The three Rotary Clubs of Leesburg partnered on this project to give it a stronger focus. 

“The awareness created by this movement means the kids are talking to each other,” Ira says. “The communication between students and student resource officers has also increased. This is very good.” 

Want to learn more?