Starting a chain reaction
Kids benefit from Rachel’s Challenge kindness program
September 5, 2019
Kids gathered last week at schools across the county to hear a presentation about Rachel’s Challenge, a program that promotes the legacy of Rachel Joy Scott. The young girl was the first person killed in the Columbine High School tragedy, but what she became known for were the simple acts of humanity and kindness she had loved to perform.
The transformational power of her story was used to create the challenge, which promotes a more positive climate in schools. Her vision was to start a chain reaction of compassion, which the program reflects in its mission to make schools “safer, more connected places where bullying and violence are replaced with kindness and respect; and where learning and teaching are awakened to their fullest”.
Representatives from Rachel’s Challenge visited both the elementary students and high school kids, giving three presentations for different age groups. In the evenings last week, adults were invited to take part in a special community program.
Larry Scott, Rachel’s uncle, led the presentations. For high school students, information was included about the Columbine tragedy, though not for the smaller kids.
For the high school kids, Scott talked about the fact that, in the days after the shooting, Rachel’s father had found an essay in her bedroom that spoke about her personal ethics and belief that, “Compassion is the greatest form of love that humans have to offer”. Her theory, he said, was that if one person goes out of their way to show an act of kindness, it will start a chain reaction.
Students watched a short documentary about the Columbine event to begin the assembly. Scott said it was “a day I will never forget” and explained that the two shooters had been bullied, felt marginalized and wanted revenge – but taking that revenge did them no good at all.
“That’s a day I hope you never have to see,” he said.
Scott offered the audience challenges, such as one from Rachel’s brother, Craig. Scott played footage of Craig speaking about his own experience of being in the library when the shooters entered, sheltering under his desk with a friend called Isaiah.
Isaiah was one of the only black kids in school, said Craig, and the shooters taunted him. The last thing Isaiah heard was racial slurs, Craig said, and the last thing he said was that he wanted to see his mom.
Scott told the students that Craig had asked him to set a challenge to get rid of any prejudice we might have against those who are different from ourselves.
“Prejudice simply means to pre judge,” he said, telling the kids that this means judging people prematurely. In Rachel’s essay, Scott said, she had expressed her idea to “give people at least three chances before you judge them”.
It’s easy to find the worst in people, he said, but “It takes a person of character to look for the best in people and that’s my challenge for you.” It takes 30 days to form a habit, he told the kids, and this one will change your life and help you see people in a whole different light.
Scott also spoke of Rachel’s life and the legacy she left behind in her essay and diaries. Anne Frank, a Jewish diarist who died in a concentration camp during World War II, was her role model, and just like Anne she wanted to have an impact on the world.
Just like Anne, said Scott, she put an emphasis on kindness. She left behind a hand print made when she was 13 years old that said her fingers would someday touch millions of people’s hearts.
This was a prescient statement for the young girl to make. Today, an estimated 1.5 million people across the nation benefit from Rachel’s legacy each year in more than 1200 schools.
Crook County School District introduced Rachel’s Challenge as a way to stimulate both academic achievement and social-emotional learning, focusing on the connections between students, faculty and staff. The program focuses on combating problems including bullying, student isolation, teen suicide, discrimination and school violence.