An essay written by a student killed in the 1999 Columbine High School shooting in Colorado inspired a program called Rachel’s Challenge to combat bullying and create a culture of kindness and compassion on school campuses.
Oakdale High School and Oakdale Junior High School students, as well as community members, viewed the presentation, which was developed from Rachel Scott’s essay entitled “My Ethics, My Codes of Life” on Sept. 13. The presentation, paid for with a grant from the county Office of Education, fits with the Oakdale school district’s mission statement and core values of having a safe and supportive school learning environment.
The presentation included a speaker, David Hills, as well as a video. The video gave background to the 1999 Columbine High School shooting with news footage and 911 call recordings, and clips of interviews with Rachel’s family and friends.
While many of the students are too young to remember that day when two student gunmen killed 12 students and a teacher, and wounded 23 others, before they both committed suicide, the story was retold so they could get an idea of the shockwave that the shooting sent through not just the community near Littleton, Colorado, but the entire nation and the world.
Presenter Hills addressed the OHS student body and spoke about prejudice and about how easy it is to pre-judge someone and not even realize we’re doing it. Hills said that Rachel was influenced and inspired by child victim of the Holocaust, Anne Frank, and how they both put a high emphasis on how to treat people.
He provided a quote from Rachel’s essay, “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.”
Among the challenges issued to the student body was looking for the best in others. Hills encouraged the students to lift people up and to bring out the best in others.
In a clip from the video, a friend of Rachel’s recalled how she was new in school and how terrible her first day was until Rachel grabbed a few friends and went to sit with her at lunchtime. The girl’s mother had also just died in a car accident a month prior.
There were also other stories in the video from schoolmates who spoke of how Rachel’s acts of kindness had helped them.
“…people will never know how far a little kindness will go,” Hills said, quoting from Rachel’s essay.
Another challenge issued to the students was for them to set goals and track their progress in a journal.
“What matters is your ability to believe in yourself,” Hills said, adding that it doesn’t matter what kind of clothes a person wears, how they look, or how they talk.
Another challenge was to choose positive influences and role models.
“They influence who we are,” he noted.
Speaking with kindness was another challenge issued to the students.
“The words we use… Words have power…We’ve all felt the pain of an insult,” Hills said.
In conclusion, the speaker then told the students to think about the people who are closest to them and challenged them to tell those people how much they love them within the next three days.
The assembly made an impression on OHS sophomore Selena Clinkenbeard.
“I feel like crying right now. It’s got me emotional,” she said following the presentation.
She noted that she felt bad that Rachel died and she also identified with how it feels to be bullied.
“Last year I was bullied so bad (at a school out of state)… It was really hard,” she shared, and divulged that she had considered harming herself because of it.
After returning to OHS, she said it’s much better but she reported that the OHS campus is not without its own problems – as OHS too, has students who are bullies and who are bullied. The hope, with the presentation to the student body and the FOR (Friends of Rachel) Club, is that the campus culture will evolve into being more accepting and compassionate overall. Clinkenbeard said she’s going to be more mindful of how she treats others.
“I think it’s going to make me – I already help people and stuff but I’m going to try even more,” she said. “…If I see someone bullying, I ask, ‘Why are you doing this?’ There’s no point in it.”
Following the assembly, a group of OHS students involved with Students In Action received a 90-minute training from the Rachel’s Challenge presenter to start a “Friends of Rachel club.” They reviewed goals and expectations of the FOR club and were provided with a curriculum to guide them in further developing and maintaining the goals of the presentation on a long-term basis.
The Rachel’s Challenge program has had an impact worldwide and the presenter said that more than 15 million people have heard Rachel’s story. Television documentaries and books published in different languages have been made about her life. Presidents, celebrities, and professional athletes have met with Rachel’s parents and lent their support to the Rachel’s Challenge program in various ways. For more information about the presentation, go to www.rachelschallenge.org.