Rachel Scott was the first student killed in the Columbine High School shooting in 1999. Her family found her diary that contained an essay called “My Ethics, My Codes of Life” and then developed a program called Rachel’s Challenge, which in part, challenges students to eliminate prejudice, set big goals, and be mindful of their influence.
The Rachel’s Challenge assembly is coming to Oakdale High School and Oakdale Junior High School on Thursday, Sept. 13. There is also a community presentation that evening from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the OHS gymnasium, 739 West G St. Everyone in the community – parents, grandparents, friends, and neighbors – is invited to attend.
“It’s about spreading kindness and doing the little things to instill kindness and instill compassion,” said Armida Colón, Director of Categorical Programs for the Oakdale Joint Unified School District.
She reported that the program fits with what OJUSD is working on to build that type of culture in the schools. It also aligns with the district’s mission statement and core values of having a safe and supportive school learning environment.
Colón added that the presentation focuses on the campus climate and campus community; it brings awareness and talks about how the community can help. While it touches on the Columbine shooting, the focus of the presentation is about Rachel and the legacy she left of reaching out to students who were different, picked on, or new at her school.
In the early 2000s, Oakdale had the opportunity to get the program for free because an organization called Youth For Christ had made the non-religious presentation available on a first come, first served basis to high schools in Stanislaus County.
“This was the most powerful thing we’ve ever brought to our campus,” said Kristi Rapinchuk, OJUSD Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, who had seen the initial presentation.
She noted that at that time, Rachel’s family members were the program speakers and Rachel’s father had given the presentation at OHS.
Rachel’s Challenge has grown over the years and this year OHS is able to bring it back because it is being funded through a grant from the Stanislaus County Office of Education.
“It didn’t just address the effects of bullying on the person being bullied,” Rapinchuk said of the presentation. “They were sensitive in recognizing that bullies themselves need intervention and support.”
She added that students are the primary caretakers of the campus climate and the student body sets the tone for the campus culture.
“It’s about doing the little things to start a ‘chain reaction,’” Colón said.
While the one-hour assembly is expected to have an impact on the students and school counselors and teachers will be on hand to be of support, in order to maintain the goals of Rachel’s Challenge a “Friends of Rachel (FOR) club” will be launched on campus. The Students in Action (SIA) club at OHS will assume the responsibilities of the FOR club, which is described as a hybrid between a service club and a lifestyle. The SIA students will receive a 90-minute training from the Rachel’s Challenge presenter and will review the goals and expectations of the FOR club. The club will be provided with a curriculum to guide them in developing further and help sustain the momentum gained through the assembly presentation on a long-term basis.
According to Rachelschallenge.org, “Rachel’s Challenge is a series of student empowering programs and strategies that equip students and adults to combat bullying and ally feelings of isolation and despair by creating a culture of kindness and compassion.”