Rachel’s Challenge is a program that encourages students to be compassionate and kind to others. The program’s inspiration is Rachel Scott, who at the age of 17 became the first victim of the Columbine High School shooting in 1999. Prior to her death, Rachel wrote an essay in which she described her theory that if one person performs a random act of kindness, the act will start a chain reaction of good will. While the middle school students learn about Rachel and the Columbine tragedy, the elementary school students learn about Rachel’s beliefs and not about her fate. The presentation emphasizes kindness, acceptance and forgiveness.
“Rachel’s Challenge is a very inspiring program, but the connection to Columbine is too much for our students at the elementary level, so our students were given an age-appropriate presentation that focused on the idea of paying it forward,” said Marsh Creek Elementary School Principal Teresa D’Alfonsi. “The program presents a powerful message, but even our youngest students were able to understand the importance of kindness. Following our presentation, our kindergarteners were coming up to staff during lunch to tell them about a good deed they did or a kind thing someone else was doing. The message is definitely sinking in.”
According to Garin Elementary Principal Stacy Joslin, Rachel’s Challenge has been the talk of the playground. Garin students will be forming a Kindness and Compassion Club in which they’ll brainstorm ways to demonstrate kindness on campus and in the community. “The students have really embraced Rachel’s Challenge,” Joslin said. “Rachel’s story has touched the hearts and minds of our students.”
Loma Vista Elementary Principal Lauri James also noticed a change in her students following the presentation. Loma Vista students already review life skills as part of the regular curriculum, but Rachel’s Challenge has inspired them to go out of their way to be kind to their peers. James credits Rachel’s Challenge representative Neil McIntyre for presenting the material in a fun and engaging way, using hip-hop and beat boxing to encourage student participation.
“Neil is quite the entertainer, and he had the students engaged in the presentation,” James said. “The kids are really responding to the message of Rachel’s Challenge. They are gung-ho about it, so I’m excited about looking for more ways to keep the program’s message going throughout the school year.”
As many students heard about the program from their older siblings last year, James said she’s glad that all students in the district are a part of Rachel’s Challenge this year. The program was extended to the entire district after the Brentwood Education Foundation secured the funds to bring the program to all 10 schools. The district hopes to host Rachel’s Challenge again in the future to reinforce the positive message of kindness and compassion.
Edna Hill Middle School has hosted Rachel’s Challenge twice, and according to Principal Kirsten Jobb, the inspiration hasn’t worn off. The school launched the Friends of Rachel Club at the beginning of the school year and prior to the presentation last week, 40 students had signed up to participate. Jobb said she expects that number to grow.
As part of Rachel’s Challenge, students are encouraged to be kind and respectful to those around them. As evidence of their positive actions, students write down their good deeds on a piece of paper, which is folded and linked to the good deeds of other students, creating a paper chain. Jobb and James plan to hang the links in their multipurpose rooms as a reminder to students to keep up the good work.
For more information about Rachel’s Challenge, visit www.rachelschallenge.org.