Rachel Joy Scott never really had the chance to put her challenge to the test.
The Colorado teen was killed during the shootings at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999.
Her story could have ended with family and friends mourning a young life cut short. Instead, her memory and example has endured for almost 20 years as a legacy with a reach across the nation and into the secondary grades of the Carlisle Area School District.
Last week a representative from Rachel’s Challenge visited Carlisle High School and Lamberton and Wilson middle schools to share a vision of how to reduce violence and build acceptance in public schools.
About 100 students from each building were selected to be trained as leaders to carry forth the words and deeds of Scott, an ordinary teenager who tried to make a difference.
“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,” she once said. “People will never know how far a little kindness can go.”
During assemblies and workshops, facilitator Alex Jackson briefed students on the story behind Rachel’s challenge. He then guided the student leaders through strategies and tools they could use to have a positive impact.
“It’s definitely going to be a big responsibility,” said Allen Chu, 12, a sixth-grader at Lamberton. He accepted the invitation to participate as a leader because he wanted to learn more about Rachel and what happened to her.
“I also wanted to learn more about kindness and what I could do,” Chu said. “I learned she was a nice person who helped many people.”
Seventh-grader Colby Williams thought by accepting the role of leader he could have a part in making his school better. “I didn’t think this was going to be a long-time thing, but I’m glad,” said Williams who turned 13 on Friday. “I appreciate the opportunity to help.”
Eighth-grader Amiya Johnson, 14, is used to being in the forefront of school activities. “I do the morning announcements,” she said. “Rachel’s story has inspired a lot of people. I feel her story will change a lot of lives and help people around the world be nicer and kinder.”
The 100 students chosen at each school will form the basis of a Friend of Rachel service club for that building, said Keith Colestock, prinicipal at Lamberton and the organizer of last week’s program.
The visits last week by Jackson were funded with a Title IV federal grant for drug and violence prevention in public schools, Colestock said.
“Rachel’s Challenge is an organization that makes presentations in schools all around the country to promote a positive school climate and culture,” Colestock said. “Its goal is to empower students to carry out acts of kindness and to care for others.”
This includes taking a stand against bullying and other negative behavior along with finding ways to serve others. During the workshop at Lamberton, the selected students were divided by grade into groups facilitated by members of the school’s student assistance team.
The students were encouraged to brainstorm ideas on how to encourage others, help those being picked on by bullies and welcome new students.
Williams was in a group that suggested picking five students per week in the academic team. Friends of Rachel members would put on their lockers sticky notes with handwritten compliments. The goal is to work through every student of the academic team by the end of the school year.
Johnson was in a group that suggested starting a school collection for hygiene supplies, clothing and other donated items that could be distributed to needy families. Other ideas include putting together a Rachel’s Challenge theme float for the Halloween parade and having an “everyone table” during lunch periods where new students or lonely students can sit and interact with Friends of Rachel members.
Rachel’s Challenge can help change the environment of the school, Johnson said.
“It really makes you look at yourself and be aware of what you are saying to people,” Williams said of lessons learned from the program. “What you are saying could have a big impact.”