Rachel Joy Scott’s name might not be one you recognize when you hear it, but her story is one you will never forget.
Rachel, a student at Columbine High School in Colorado, was the first person killed in the tragic Colorado school shooting on April 20, 1999. The students that took her life, as well as their own lives and the lives of 11 other students and one teacher, reportedly did so as a result of bullying.
Now, more than 10 years after her death, Rachel’s family and friends have started Rachel’s Challenge, a program to challenge students to resist bullying in schools and encourage them to treat others as they would want to be treated. As part of the program, speakers visit schools across the country and talk about the issues faced by students, and they share Rachel’s story, as well as her ethics code for life. She wrote the code one month before her death.
Dawn Pettus, community education director for Washington County Schools, is bringing that challenge to local students. A spokesperson with Rachel’s Challenge will visit local schools on Wednesday, Nov. 17, and then host a community event later that evening.
Starting at 8:30 a.m., a speaker will address middle school students from Washington County Middle School, North Washington, and St. Dominic, followed by a program for high school students at 10 a.m. Pettus said the program will issue five challenges to students about how they treat each other, as well as showing a video presentation with footage about Rachel and her life. At 6:30 p.m., a presentation will be conducted at Washington County High School in the gymnasium, and it will be open to the public for all ages to attend free of charge.
Following the presentation, Pettus said a group of students interested in being leaders and working to sustain the impact of the program throughout the school year will be able to meet and go through leadership training to work toward helping their fellow students remember Rachel’s message long after the presentation is over. Students will have the opportunity to start a Friends of Rachel club within their schools, and also create Chain Links clubs, which can spread the message by performing acts of kindness, then passing those acts along and doing an act of kindness for someone else. The clubs will be a one-year long effort to help create a permanent cultural change in schools, and will offer instructions for small acts of kindness, as well as larger projects.
Pettus said the goal of the challenge is to reduce the number of disciplinary referrals in schools, while also decreasing racial tension, preventing suicides and acts of violence among young people. The program also aims to increase the number of acts of kindness performed by students, strengthen their sense of belonging, and develop a sense of community within local schools.
Since it began, Rachel’s Challenge has made presentations to more than 3,300 schools in 50 states and six countries. More than 11 million people have been reached with the message, and seven documented schools shootings and acts of violence have been prevented, as well as hundreds of suicides being averted.
For more information on Rachel’s Challenge, visit www.rachelschallenge.org on the Internet. For information about the presentations taking place locally, contact Pettus at (859) 336-5470.