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Almost every adult remembers where he or she was when the Columbine High School shooting took place on April 20, 1999. However, many people may not know the story of Rachel Joy Scott, the first person killed in that tragedy.
The Rachel’s Challenge Program, based on the life and writings of Rachel Scott, recently made presentations for Cartmell Elementary School, Carroll Middle School, Carroll County High School, parents and community members. The presenter was Rachel’s uncle, Larry Scott, whose two children were also students at the school during the tragedy.
Scott told about Rachel’s diaries and essays, in which she wrote, “I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion, then it will start a chain reaction of the same. People will never know how far a little kindness will go.” Not only did Rachel write about being kind and compassionate; she actually lived it out. Scott showed how Rachel defended people who were being bullied and befriended new students and those with disabilities.
Rachel’s Challenge includes the following five parts:
1. Choose positive influences
2. Dare to dream and keep a journal or diary
3. Write down your goals
4. Use kind words and little acts of kindness
5. Accept and include other people and eliminate prejudice
Scott showed a video of clip of Rachel’s brother Craig who had argued with Rachel the morning of the shooting over his causing them to be late for school that day. Craig expressed regret that Rachel died before he ever got the chance to apologize to her. Scott reminded the audience of the unpredictability of life and challenged everyone within the next couple of days to let their closest family members and friends know that they loved them.
Students and staff members were moved to tears. Many hugs and kind words were shared afterwards. But Scott said that for a program like Rachel’s Challenge to succeed in developing a culture of kindness and compassion, students, staff members, and parents need to put the challenge into action.
Scott trained a group of 60 middle school students and a separate group of 60 high school students in specific steps they can take to help Rachel’s Challenge spread throughout the school and the community. Student Assistance Coordinators Sharon Haun and Jeaneen Crutcher will work with a Friends of Rachel Club at the high school and a Chain Links Club at the middle school to develop some of the activities promoted by Rachel’s Challenge. A New-Student Welcome Committee is a group of students that welcomes new students by showing them around school and helping them to get to know people. The A-OK Atmosphere Committee creates and hangs posters with positive messages around school. One group creates paper chains with each link representing one act of kindness. One group writes letters of appreciation to staff members and others. One group promotes a food drive to help meet the nutrition needs of community members.
School social worker Tammy Welch, who helped organize the Rachel’s Challenge presentation, said that she has received lots of positive feedback from students, staff members, and parents.
She said parents and community members can help make Rachel’s Challenge a reality in Carroll County by talking to the youth about the challenge and what we all can do to create a kinder, more compassionate school and community.
Jeff Fremin is director of public relations for Carroll County Public Schools.