More than 1,200 Edmond middle school students listened attentively in two separate assemblies as they learned about the writings and life of a young girl who was the first student killed at Columbine High School in 1999.
Rachel’s Challenge is a series of student empowering programs and strategies that equip students and adults to combat bullying and allay feelings of isolation and despair by creating a culture of kindness and compassion. The programs are based on the writings and life of 17-year-old Rachel Joy Scott.
Rachel left a legacy of reaching out to those who were different, who were picked on by others or who were new at her school.
Shortly before her death Rachel 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 can go.”
The day I met Rachel
The arts, drama and journaling were all things Rachel enjoyed and excelled in, and it was through her journals after her death that her family learned more about their loved one, said her sister Dana Scott.
Even though Rachel’s legacy has changed millions of people’s lives, Dana Scott wrote, “I can tell you she was a normal teenager who loved life and experienced the same struggles as every other teenager. She made mistakes like everybody else, but somehow, most of the time, found a way to see through her frustrations to see a bigger purpose.”
Among her writings Rachel developed a Code for Living for elementary students, middle schoolers and high school students.
Her Code for Middle School Students includes five points.
1. Look for the best in others. When meeting someone for the first, second or third time she asked, “Did you look in their soul? If you look hard enough you can find a light and you can help it grow. Look for the best in others and you can find it.”
2. Treat others the way you want to be treated. “People tend to respond to the way they are treated,” Rachel wrote. “One must start a chain reaction of kindness.”
3. Choose positive influences. “Choices we make today determine who we will become tomorrow,” Rachel wrote.
Rachel journaled, “I write for the sake of my soul,” and she had two mentors she looked up to and echoed some of their thoughts and beliefs.
One mentor was Anne Frank, who journaled while her family was in hiding during World War II.
The other was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., from whom she borrowed Chain Reaction from a book of the same title when he said, “The chain reaction of evil must be broken.”
One of the school’s bullies said of Rachel after her death, “Rachel was tougher than I was. She made me want to be a better person.”
Austin, a local D.J. whom Rachel had helped one cold, snowy evening, said that night, when she stopped to help him, held her umbrella and flash light and talked to him while he changed his flat tire impacted him for the rest of his life.
He told his friends later an angel had come and helped him, and that night more than 13 years ago he decided to take up the torch of kindness and pass it on to others. When Austin and his wife had their first child, a daughter, they named her Rachel.
4. Speak words of kindness. Speak with kindness, not cruelty, using words that heal, Rachel wrote. “You can start a chain reaction.”
A former teacher said Rachel was never afraid of being her own person. She had a deep, thoughtful side. “I never heard Rachel say anything mean about anyone.”
5. Forgive yourself and others. Forgiving yourself is important for picking up the pieces and moving on, Rachel wrote. “Forgiveness makes you free. Forgive yourself and others. Infuse kindness and compassion.”
After the assembly at Sequoyah Middle School on Monday, eighth-grader Sam Blankenship said, “I cried. Rachel was a great person, and I know that my nephew who is bi-polar just needs more understanding.”
Eighth-grader Colton James said, “The assembly was really deep, and it was something special. I am going to work on my relationships with my family and friends.”
Principal Jason Galloway said, “We want a sustainable and positive impact in the school’s climate. We would like to practice ‘random acts of kindness’ and see how the overall climate improves in our school as well as impacts the community.”
As Rachel journaled, “I will not be average,” she wrote, “dream big and believe in yourself, be kind to others, show appreciation to those you love and be the answer.”
Her father, Darrell, wrote, “... it is important for people to know that hope can come out of challenge and adversity.
“There are many circumstances in this world over which we have no control. Rachel’s Challenge is something we can all do — help change the world by starting a chain reaction of kindness. It’s free, it’s easy and it’s empowering to realize that one person can make a difference.”
The presenter Kristi Krings said the thing that gets her through the emotional assembly is that she gets to see the good that comes out of the process.
“I see not the tragedy, but the triumph that comes from what happened,” Krings said.
Following the assembly, students were given the chance to sign a banner stating, “I accept Rachel’s challenge,” and to sign up to be part of the Friends of Rachel Club training, a core group of 100 students who will be role models for other students to emulate as they inspire, equip and empower other students by helping create a positive culture change in their school by starting a chain reaction of kindness and compassion.
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