GLOVERSVILLE - Before a gunman ended the life of Rachel Joy Scott in the 1999 Columbine High School shootings in Colorado, she had offered words of wisdom through her diaries and the essays she had submitted in classes.
She talked about sincerity and a positive outlook toward the gift that is life. "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," she had written in one of her essays.
On Tuesday, Gloversville students and members of the community heard Rachel's message in a program called Rachel's Challenge, a program that visits schools nationwide to inspire kindness.
Jimmy Braden, a speaker for the organization Rachel’s
Challenge, talks to students at Gloversville
"The event was very inspiring and it taught me that I shouldn't take my sister or friends for granted," eighth-grader Maddie Fancher said after the presentation Tuesday at Gloversville Middle School. "That event was really horrible and had a huge effect on people."
"I think this was very uplifting and had a very positive outcome and message from a sad thing that happened," eighth-grader Ckailea Kewley said.
Students and members of the community gathered at the middle school auditorium to hear the message of kindness inspired by Rachel, who was the first victim from the Columbine High School tragedy.
Rachel's five challenges are:
1. Eliminate prejudice by looking for the best in others.
2. Treat others the way you want to be treated.
3. Choose positive influences in your life.
4. Speak with words of kindness not cruelty.
5. Forgive yourself and others.
Rachel's story is told through her diaries and essays. Organizers of Rachel's Challenge aim to turn the story of a tragic death into a mission of change by helping create safer learning environments.
Rachel's Challenge was started by Rachel's dad and stepmom, Darrell and Sandy Scott, when they realized the writings and drawings Rachel left not only had an effect on her friends and classmates, but would resonate with students around the world.
The 17-year-old showed compassion for what life could offer. Her essay about compassion, written shortly before her death, has been turned into a message of hope and change for anyone who has seen the presentation by Rachel's Challenge.
Although many of the middle school students who saw Tuesday's program were just toddlers when the tragedy occurred more than a decade ago, some students said the message had a resounding effect on them.
Eighth-grader Rami Haddawi said the event was inspirational to him and his peers because it showed them a story about making a difference.
Although 13 people were killed and several others were injured at Columbine in 1999, the message and lessons of Scott are provided to students to let them know what they do or say today will have a lasting effect on people tomorrow.
"We are looking to change the culture of the schools and the communities we touch," Rachel's Challenge speaker Jimmy Braden said. "We are teaching people that it is OK to treat others with kindness and compassion. We want them to keep the chain-reaction going with little things. We aren't expecting anything astronomical. We want to start with programs within the school to let them change the culture of the school before branching out to the community."
The program is designed with five challenges for the students and community to make a change in their life that will affect others in a positive way.
Those challenges include: eliminate prejudice by looking for the best in others; treat others the way you want to be treated; choose positive influences in your life; speak with words of kindness not cruelty; and forgive yourself and others.
Students will be given the opportunity to sign a banner that will hang in the school if they accept the challenges and have the chance to join the Friends of Rachels Club to hopefully start a chain reaction of kindness within the district and community.
The club will meet regularly to implement programs such as High-Five Friday, in which the club will create a positive atmosphere and get students excited about being kind and reaching out to people. Other schools have started Mix It Up Days, in which students sit with people they normally wouldn't in class or at lunch to let every person know they are appreciated, Braden said.
"Having this be student-driven really will have the greatest impact on them," said middle school Assistant Principal Nicole Lent. "We see a need to have students start showing more compassion to one another. We know this can't happen overnight, but starting positive programs like this will help make that happen."
Levi Pascher can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.