The first of the twelve students killed on April 20,1999 in the Columbine High School tragedy was Rachel Joy Scott. After her death, many students who knew Rachel reached out to share stories with the Scott Family about the profound impact her simple acts of kindness had on their lives, even preventing one young man for taking his own life.
Realizing the transformational effect of Rachel’s story, they started Rachel’s Challenge; a non-profit that is teaching students to work at making their peers feel accepted.
World Compass Academy, a K-7th grade charter school in Castle Rock, recently hosted several Rachel’s Challenge presentations for its student body. “We had a Kindergarten through 4th grade presentation that was positive and had an emphasis on kindness and compassion,” said Principal Howard. “We then invited the 5th and 6th graders to watch a scaled back version of the more serious presentation observed tonight.”
The evening’s presenter, Pat Kingston, opened by trying to give the audience some insight into Rachel’s life and the positive impact she made in the lives of others. “I never had the opportunity to meet Rachel, but I do remember the day she died,” Kingston continued, “I remember the days following the tragedy and seeing her red Acura still parked in the school parking lot, covered with gifts and notes from people who knew her.”
Shortly after her funeral, while sorting through her belongings, her parents came across an essay that would change their lives. Rachel’s dad, Daryl, talked about what they discovered that day during a clip that was shown from a documentary.
“About a month before she died, she wrote an essay called ‘My ethics; My codes of life,’ he recalled. “In her essay, she challenged her reader twice to start a chain reaction of kindness and compassion.” It surmised that the simple act of showing kindness to others could make a difference in the world.
“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 wrote. “My code may seem like a fantasy that can never be reached, but test it for yourself and see what kind of effect on the people’s lives around you.”
The idea, influenced by the writings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., proceeded to lay out a framework of challenges to its reader that would start positive chain reaction she envisioned. In one famous speech, he wrote “darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that. The chain reaction of evil must be broken.”
Rachel saw that the only way to break the chain reaction of evil was to start a chain reaction of kindness. In order for this to happen, she listed five specific challenges for her reader.
First, she asked for people to always look for the best in others so you won’t have any prejudice. She believed in giving people three chances before we judge or label them.
Rachel understood the negative results prejudice can have. “Another one of her role models was Anne Frank,” Kingston noted. “We know about Anne because of the diary she left–she died during WWII because of the extreme prejudice of Adolf Hitler against Jewish people.”
Her second challenge encouraged all to dream big and keep a journal. “Write down your goals and go with everything you have, because you are never too old to dream,” she wrote.
The third challenge asked the reader to choose positive influences and choose to be a positive influence on others. Rachel wrote about her want to reach out to influence several people in her school.
“I want to reach out to those with special needs because they are often overlooked. I want to reach out to those who are new at school because they don’t have any friends yet I want to reach out to those who are being picked on and put down by others.”
One of the letters received by Rachel’s parents after her death came from her pier named Adam. “Born with special needs, both mental and physical, he was brutally teased in middle and high school,” Kingston told the audience. “He told them about the day that two boys were picking on him in the hall, shoving and calling him names.
Rachel happened to be nearby observing what was happening.
“She walked down and got between Adam and the boys and doubled up her fists and said, ’Touch him again and you’ll have to fight me,” recounted Kingston. What Rachel didn’t know was that she had saved Adam’s life that day because he was going to take his own life so he didn’t have to feel like an outsider anymore.
Her fourth challenge asked others to speak with kindness—not cruelty—because words can hurt or words can heal. Rachel wrote, “People will never know how far a little kindness can go.”
As Kingston read her final challenge, he asked those present to close their eyes and picture those you love. “Maybe it’s a son or daughter, a mother or father or cousin, a grandparent or grandchild,” he said. “Within the next three days, go to these people and tell them how much you love them.”
With those simple but profound acts of kindness, Rachel’s Challenge is calling for students to be proactive and positively affect the climate in our schools. At World Compass Academy, Principal Howard hopes this will be a reminder students to be nice to their classmates. “We want to implement the type of compassion Rachel’s Challenge talks about in our school to make students feel safe when they are here.”
For other information on Rachel Joy Scott and Rachel’s Challenge visit: