At least 1000 people listened quietly on Wednesday night, September 22 in the Andrew Lewis gym while Darryl Scott, the father of the first 1999 Columbine shooting victim, explained how she had planned to create “a chain reaction of kindness that will send ripples around the world” even before her death.
Roanoke County and Salem city schools partnered to bring “Rachel’s Challenge,” an organization dedicated to bringing her message of kindness and hopeful possibilities to millions, to all of their middle schools. It was open especially to Andrew Lewis, Glenvar, and Hidden Valley middle school students and parents, but it was also open to the community in general. A similar event for Cave Spring, William Byrd, and Northside Middle was held Tuesday.
A special assembly was held at each school during the school day, and students were selected or were volunteered to join the “Friends of Rachel” club. Those students will brainstorm and organize events, fundraisers, and programs in their schools and in the community to help others, to promote being kind and to help people see the worth in others.
Rachel’s family found six diaries and several essays she wrote in high school after her death about her theories of kindness. They also heard numerous stories of her random acts of love, many from strangers and other students at school.
Darryl Scott estimated that 15 million people have directly heard Rachel’s Challenge presentations from 30 speakers in the last 11 years. He said that in the past 18 months, the program has received 300 emails from students who decided not to commit suicide because of Rachel’s story. Scott said they know of at least seven school shootings prevented because the presentations teach students to come forward when someone is threatening to harm others.
“I’m not looking for closure or grieving” through the program, Scott said. “I grieve at her grave. When I speak about her life, I celebrate her legacy. People ask me how can I do this, and my answer is ‘How can I not?’”
“If you didn’t walk away from this crying – oh my gosh” said parent Tammy Speight. Her son, Matthew Duncan is an eighth grader at GMS and was born in 1997. Like many of his peers, he hadn’t even heard of the Columbine shootings before. Something he took away from the overall message was to set his own goals and to really try and be nice to others.
Ethan Kemp, a sixth grader at ALMS, says he’s going to treat people nicer.
Braxton Wall, a seventh grader at ALMS, said “Rachel’s Challenge is about being kind to people and just being nice and doing good deeds in school, in public and in general.”
Something all three students were excited about: A basic “Friends of Rachel” starting program to welcome new students. For a new student’s first week, five established students are assigned to say hi and speak to them and three are assigned to sit with them at lunch. Each day, the group rotates and brings in new people to give new students the chance to become familiar with a wider group of their classmates.
Roanoke County is definitely planning on bringing the program to William Byrd High in late October and is trying to set up dates for other high schools. Botetourt County and Roanoke City have plans for all of their middle schools.