HEBRON | Parents of Hebron school students got a firsthand look Tuesday evening at a program that teaches children compassion and kindness.
Hundreds assembled in the middle school gymnasium to witness Rachel’s Challenge, an educational program created by the parents of Rachel Scott, one of the first children to be killed in the Columbine High School shootings in 1999.
Rachel’s Challenge, through the writings and drawings from Rachel’s diaries, found after her death, is a motivational program designed to combat school violence and bullying by promoting kindness and compassion among students.
J.B. Braden, a presenter for Rachel’s Challenge, showed videos of the Columbine shooting and its aftermath and footage of Scott's family members and friends talking about Rachel’s well-known qualities of leadership and compassion toward others.
Rachel’s diaries were a sort of manifesto in which she shared her ideas, dreams and goals for a kinder, more compassionate world.
The Scott family founded Rachel’s Challenge soon after her death, and to-date thousands of schools around the world have hosted the program for children and their parents.
“Rachel had a dream to start a chain reaction to treat people with kindness and compassion,” said Braden, of Denver, Colo. “That goal has become a reality. Millions of people around the world have heard her story and been touched by her story.”
Braden urged the audience to follow Rachel’s example by meeting the challenge to eliminate prejudice, dream big, choose positive influences and speak with kindness.
“Our words have a power to hurt and a power to heal,” Braden said. “You never know when one act of kindness can change someone’s life.”
Hebron students participated in the Rachel’s Challenge program earlier in the school day.
Skyla Smolen, an eighth-grader who mentors the school’s sixth-graders, found Rachel’s Challenge enlightening.
“I thought it was really helpful,” said Smolen, 13. “We should always look on the positive side and not the negative side. We normally go straight to the negative, but if you say something nice to somebody, that’s powerful. Just a smile will help someone else.”
Boone Township schools Superintendent Nathan Kleefisch said the schools want to perpetuate “a culture where everyone’s accepted.”
“It’s very inspiring for the kids to learn a lesson about treating people with respect and dignity,” Kleefisch said. “People have issues and baggage that most people are not aware of that affects how they behave. Instead of ridiculing them, go and try to help them and be a friend if they are isolated.”
Hebron Middle School Principal Jeff Brooks said he first saw the program at a former school, and he knew it would “have an impact” on Hebron students. He and middle school adviser Dan Pastrick decided to bring Rachel’s Challenge to Hebron.
“Our kids are already kind, but they can always get better,” Brooks said.