April 20, 1999 – The date has been forever etched into the minds of parents and children alike as the nation’s most shocking school-shooting of its time. Just hearing the words “Columbine,” or “Littleton, Colorado,” gives chills to many people.
Rachel Joy Scott, a 17-year-old junior at Columbine High, was the first victim that day. And her story, now heard by millions, is touching people in countless ways, with students around the world taking a stand to make a difference in the lives of others.
A month before the shooting, Scott wrote an essay in which she challenged her reader to start a chain reaction through acts of kindness and compassion. From that essay, and heartfelt diary entries, emerged her provocation, testing the empathy of others.
Rachel’s Challenge, now in its seventh year, spanning five countries and growing, has been implemented throughout thousands of schools, thanks to her father, Darrell Scott. Middle schools, including all four middle schools within Sussex County’s Indian River School District (IRSD), are accepting the challenge.
“Rachel’s story has touched the lives of so many people,” said Derek Kilgore, a close friend of the Scott family. He has traveled the country to talk of Rachel’s life, prompting students and adults to accept Rachel’s Challenge. “When people actually take the time to make a difference, there’s so much they can do.”
Last week, he and IRSD Supervisor of Secondary Instruction Renee Jerns visited Southern Delaware School of the Arts, as well as Selbyville, Georgetown and Millsboro middle schools, to teach students what they can do to participate.
The assembly explained Rachel’s Challenge and presented students with five steps they can take to better themselves and the lives of people around them. The challenge encourages students to eliminate prejudice by looking for the best in others, to set goals and dare to dream, to choose their influences, to offer small acts of kindness and to start a chain reaction with family and friends.
The program, which has expanded into the No. 1 assembly program in schools across the country, has prompted the formation of the Friends of Rachel Club, which keeps students connected with those in other schools who have heard her story, and Rachel’s Rally, an end-of-the-school-year effort, wherein students share their acts of kindness in the form of a paper chain. Last year’s 123,000 links from more than 7,000 students nationwide, stretched 3 miles long.
“Students work together through group activities,” said Kilgore. “It keeps that connection and helps develop who they are.”
The program extends further than the presentation, as Kilgore met with some of the schools’ most influential students, teaching them how to advocate a positive attitude towards others.
Starting the project with middle schools was no random decision, either.
“It’s a character education program,” Kilgore added. “This is the perfect time to educate students and start to teach them to make a difference in the lives of others.”
“This is a wonderful program,” Jerns added. “It promotes positive behavior in the schools and teaches these children to do the right thing. Rachel’s Challenge is the perfect way to show them how.”
For more information about the program, including Rachel Scott’s story, visit www.rachelschallenge.com online.