The recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida has reignited the debate over guns in American society. But one program, inspired by a victim of the Columbine school shooting massacre nearly two decades ago, avoids the gun issue altogether. Instead, Rachel’s Challenge addresses school violence by focusing on kindness and compassion.
CGTN’s Hendrik Sybrandy reports.
“All right, well good morning,” said Craig Scott, as he walked onstage at Nederland Middle-High School.
Students there gathered for a presentation unlike any they’ve experienced before. Scott was a student at Colorado’s Columbine High School on April 20th, 1999.
“I’m not here today to focus on the tragedy,” Scott said. “But my story does start there.” His sister was killed outside the school library that day.
“I looked out from behind the police car and it was Rachel,” he said, reflecting back on that morning.
Rachel Scott was the first of a dozen students and a teacher who died at the school. The unusual teenager’s writings, like the essay “My Ethics, My Codes of Life,” captured her approach to life.
“I have this theory that if one person will go out of their way to show compassion, it will start a chain reaction of the same,” Craig Scott said, reading from the essay.
Her father Darrell first shared Rachel’s story soon after the Columbine tragedy.
“I began to realize the impact that her life and her writings and her diaries had on young people,” Scott said. “Rachel’s writings are full of wisdom beyond her years.”
One sentence in particular was prophetic: “These hands belong to Rachel Joy Scott and will someday touch millions of people’s hearts.” Her words inspired Rachel’s Challenge, a 19-year-old program that relies on five separate challenges to students to help foster a positive culture and reduce violence in schools.
“I’ve grown up with the same kids, and I think too many times, things slide,” Sydney Mayhew, a Nederland High School 9th grader said. “Small things like bullying.”
“We don’t refer to ourselves as anti-bullying,” Darrell Scott said. “We prefer pro-kindness.”
Rachel’s Challenge, which also consists of service clubs and mentoring, uses humor to encourage simple acts of kindness and the reality of what happened at Columbine to drive its points home.
The program has now been offered at roughly 15 percent of U.S. schools as well as other schools around the world.
Rachel’s Challenge leaders claim it’s reduced disciplinary problems and prevented an average of 150 suicides a year so far. The key, they say, is reaching kids’ hearts and getting them to connect.
“My last challenge to you today is a challenge of action,” Craig Scott said during the recent presentation. “It’s to go to at least three people that you’re thinking about that are important to you, and today find the time in your own way to tell them how much you appreciate them, how much you care about them and how much you love them.”
Craig said it’s exactly what his sister Rachel would have done.
“Some say she didn’t get to do anything very big in her life, but she believed she could make a difference,” he said. “She challenged you to start a chain reaction of kindness and compassion. Thank you guys so much. You guys have been awesome.”