Date: Thursday, January 20, 2011
Jana Stephens, Layne Tarby, Brett Mayfield, Ally Phillips and Jessie
Keener sign the banner vowing to prevent bullying.
By Jean Ann Collins
PISD Communications Coordinator
Students at Princeton High School gathered last week during lunch to sign a banner that symbolizes their commitment to accept Rachel’s Challenge following the nationally recognized presentation.
“I hope the people who sign the banner really mean it and stick to what they say,” sophomore Monica Becker said. “Our whole school environment could change.”
More than 1,700 people were able to hear the message about the importance of showing compassion to those around them. Students and teachers from Huddleston, Clark and Princeton High School, as well as community members, crowded the auditorium following Monday’s snow day.
“Honestly, when I first went in to Rachel's Challenge I thought Rachel would just be a girl who everyone made look amazing and good after she died, but once I saw the whole presentation, I knew I was wrong,” senior Krista Simandl said.
“The person she was really inspired me. I want to have a dream that big. I am sure a lot of people want to change the world, but she really wanted to. I think God really made something beautiful out of the tragedy that was Columbine.”
Rachel Scott was the first victim in the shooting rampage at Columbine High School in April of 1999. Her brother, Craig, who was in the library of the school (the worst of the killing zone), narrowly escaped death and watched as two of his friends were murdered.
A few weeks after the tragedy, Darrell Scott, Rachel’s father, spoke to a Congressional committee regarding issues of school violence. Shortly afterward, he founded the bullying and violence abatement program, Rachel’s Challenge.
“The scene at Columbine High School shocked the most hardened of law enforcement veterans,” said Cody Hodges, the speaker at Tuesday’s assembly. “It became the scene of the worst high school shooting in history.”
Students at PHS sat in silence as they listened to the actual 911 call that came from a teacher in the Columbine library – the site of the most intense shooting. She was detailing information about the gunmen to the dispatcher as she was yelling at the students to get under tables to hide from their attackers.
“It was very intense,” junior Tim Beasley said. “Surprisingly, no trouble makers made a scene during the showing. It was cool how everyone was paying attention and giving their respect during the program. It just showed how much of an impact it was making to kids here.”
Hodges recounted the happenings on April 20, 1999.
“Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold put bombs in the cafeteria and planned to shoot students as they ran from the building after the bombs went off,” Hodges said. “They failed to detonate so they just started shooting randomly from room to room. When those 49 1/2 minutes were over, 12 students and one teacher was dead and family frantically waited outside as one by one they were reunited with their children. But some families weren’t that lucky.”
It’s the aftermath of the shooting that continues to reach the hearts of those who hear Rachel’s Challenge. It’s her acts of kindness and compassion coupled with the content of her six diaries that have become the foundation of the school program.
“People watched her funeral on CNN,” Hodges said. “It became the largest viewing audience in CNN history.”
It’s not your typical anti-bullying campaign. Rachel’s Challenge takes a different approach by encouraging compassion in hopes that it will lead to a chain reaction of kindness.
“Just one act of kindness to someone can make their whole day 10 times better,” Becker said.
According to Hodges, there are five challenges that come from Rachel’s “codes of life,” which she wrote about in an essay in the months before she died.
No. 1: Look for the best in other people – eliminate prejudice
Craig Scott, Rachel’s brother, sat between two of his best friends as they were gunned down under a table in the library.
“He was staring down the barrel of a gun; he was next,” Hodges said. “But what he remembers now is how his black friend Isaiah was killed, and that the last thing he heard before he died was racial slurs from the two gunman.”
No. 2: Dare to dream – write goals down and keep a journal
Hodges recalled his own dream of playing football at the college level. He sat on the bench at Texas Tech for three years after an injury with coaches telling him he would never play.
“If I had listened and gave up on my dreams, I would have left Tech, but in 2005-06, I was the starting quarterback and Tech went 9-2 and we played in the Cotton Bowl,” he said.
No. 3: Choose positive influences
“If junk is the only thing we are putting in our lives, that’s all that is gonna come out,” Hodges said. “The biggest influence is your group of friends and it doesn’t make any sense to choose the wrong crowd. Don’t let your environment change who you are.”
No. 4: Kind words – huge impact
Rachel decided to make it a goal to be nice to people she came across. On two particular instances, those kind contacts made life-changing impacts.
“After her death, her parents received calls from people who wanted them to know Rachel had touched their lives,” Hodges said.
Adam was one such kid. He told her parents he had planned to end his life the day Rachel intervened and stopped a bully from taunting and harassing him.
“He planned to end his own life until he saw the good in someone,” Hodges said. “You never know what someone is going through.”
No. 5: Start a chain reaction of kindness
Leaders from the PHS chapter of FCA and National Honor Society on Thursday morning were continuing this idea by creating a real chain of their own. Colorful pieces of paper (or links) were distributed to students. Each link represents a person committed to the challenge as well as actual acts of kindness.
After students write their commitment to Rachel’s Challenge or an act of kindness they have committed or witnessed on the paper, they can put the link on the chain. It will start at the PHS office and stretch as far as students can get it.
“I think it is a good idea to make a real chain,” sophomore Cheyenne Fallis said. “I’m curious to see how long it’s gonna be. If we have enough people doing good deeds, it shouldn’t be too long before it stretches longer than the 3-mile chain they showed in the video.”
In 2005, Rachel’s Challenge was awarded the Friends of Education award from the state of New York. The school program has been credited with drastically reducing bullying, preventing numerous suicides and a known school shooting.
Rachel’s Challenge continues to gain attention nationwide for its powerful impact on students. Studies are showing declines in office referrals and other discipline issues where the program has been presented.
“From a district standpoint, I think it was an excellent program, and it appears by the student reaction that they are up for accepting Rachel's Challenge,” PISD superintendent Phil Anthony said. “They were focused, and by how quiet the group was, the presentation seemed to captivate them. I know it was an emotional experience for a lot of them.”
Hodges stressed the need for students to act now on what they are feeling after Rachel’s Challenge.
“You are not guaranteed next week, not tomorrow, not 15 minutes from now. You have to start your story now from the choices you make and how you treat people. You get to decide. Accept the challenge because you mean it.”
From left, Jonae Isaac and Amber Wakefield sign the Rachel’s Challenge
banner at Princeton High School following last week’s presentation.
From left, Kristen Carpenter, Kristina Black and Cassidy Standridge
sign the banner during the Rachel’s Challenge presentation.
Cody Hodges speaks to students on behalf of Rachel's Challenge. Hodges is the former quarterback for Texas Tech and travels to represent Rachel's Challenge and spread the message of compassion in hopes of creating a chain reaction for kindness.
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