School aims to fulfill goal of girl who was killed at Columbine
By Kim Walter
Tuesday morning, students at Skyline High School in Warren County heard the story of Rachel Joy Scott, the first student killed during the Columbine High School shooting on April 20, 1999.
While the 17-year-old's death was tragic, the story of her life and devotion to friendship and treating others kindly has impacted the hearts and minds of students around the world.
One month before she died, Rachel wrote an essay entitled "My Ethics, My Culture of Life," and in it she challenges others to appreciate those around them and start a chain reaction of kindness. She also kept several journals in which she reiterated the importance of the "golden rule," and described her desire to not be labeled as average, and instead make a positive difference.
Her father, Darrell, after realizing his daughter's dream of a better world, started Rachel's Challenge. The organization takes Rachel's core beliefs for a kinder society, and presents them to students of all ages, as well as their community. Training and workshops also are available to make sure the pledge to take the challenge is carried through.
Aaron Kinebrew, a speaker for Rachel's Challenge, led the presentation at Skyline. Emotions were flowing in the auditorium as video clips and testimonies were shown from the shooting at Columbine.
Kinebrew admitted that he was guilty of prejudice, and that he sometimes judged new people based on their attitude, what they were wearing and even by a look on their face.
He then asked students if they were guilty of something similar, after which an overwhelming number of hands went up.
"Rachel wanted people to look for the best in others, and eliminate prejudice," he said. "I'm sure you all know someone who brings out the worst in you, but also know loved ones who bring out the best. You can control what you bring out in other people."
The first part of Rachel's challenge is to look for the best in people.
The presentation continued, comparing Rachel to Anne Frank. Both young women died at a young age and kept journals, which have helped their legacy live after their death. Kinebrew said both woman also felt their lives had a purpose bigger than what anyone could imagine.
Repeatedly, Rachel wrote that she would change the world and touch millions of lives; the feeling was never a question. Another part of the presentation challenged students to dream big, and turn those dreams into goals by keeping a journal.
"What matters is the ability for you to believe in yourself," Kinebrew said to the audience.
The third challenge asks participants to choose positive influences.
Part of the presentation described how Rachel chose to reach out to three groups of students who really needed friendship: those with special needs, new students and kids being picked on and teased by their peers.
After her death, Rachel's family received hundreds of letters from people who were touched by Rachel, including a special needs student who was contemplating suicide the day that Rachel stood up for him.
"Don't let your character change color with your environment," Rachel wrote. "Find out who you are and let it stay its true color."
The fourth challenge is to speak with kindness, as Kinebrew pointed out that there are no small insults, just as there are no small compliments. He said that many students, after accepting Rachel's challenge, create a paper chain with each link representing an act of kindness. One chain reached over 28 miles.
Toward the end of the presentation, Kinebrew asked the audience to close their eyes and picture someone who was dear to them. The final challenge, he said, is to reach out to that person within the next three days and tell them how important they are.
As a vast majority of the crowd raised their hands to commit to accepting Rachel's Challenge, Kinebrew smiled, and said Rachel's family would be proud to know that Rachel's legacy is still extending.
A more focused training session took place in the afternoon for 100 selected students from the high school, which would help bring to front any issues that students noticed, as well as plant ideas for anti-bullying projects the school could implement.
"We've got to keep this feeling going," Kinebrew said. "This is the heart of change."
The senior class at Skyline was responsible not only for suggesting that Rachel's Challenge come to the school, but also for raising the funds to make it possible.
"These kids had heard about it, and they felt like it was something the school could really benefit from," said Lisa Rogers, the senior class sponsor and math teacher at Skyline. "If we can just pull this into the community, we can show that we are a group that cares about each other. When we had a student in a car accident last year, this community pulled together. In times of need we all pull together ... why can't we pull together all the time?"
A banner was put up at the school following the presentation, and before the school day was over, it was full of signatures of students committing to Rachel's Challenge.
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org