After the death of his daughter Rachel in the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School, Darrell Scott realized the writings and drawings she left behind provided comfort not only to her friends and family, but to anyone who read them.
Soon afterwards, Darrell and Sandy Scott, Rachel’s stepmother, began Rachel’s Challenge, a nonprofit organization aimed at creating a “permanent, positive culture change in schools, businesses and communities by starting a chain reaction of kindness and compassion.”
On Thursday, March 7, Rachel’s Challenge will hold three special programs at Bethlehem Central High School. The first two programs will be held during the day and are meant for students, while the third will be held at night and will be open to the public. The event is being brought to the school through a partnership with Bethlehem Opportunities Unlimited and the BCHS Student Senate.
“It really takes a community to foster a strong sense of community,” said High School Dean Marna Meltzer about why a program will be made available to the general public. “It’s something important to have to combat those feelings of isolation and develop lasting relationships.”
The first two programs will be a mix of students from grades 10 and 12, and then nine and 11. Meltzer said the idea is to get students out of their grade bubbles to interact with one another, and hopefully the older students will work to mentor the younger ones. All students will attend the assembly. An additional 100 students will then go through a special training to form a local chapter of the Friends of Rachel Club to help pass the information they learn along to other students within the district.
The assembly is 60 minutes long and includes stories from Rachel’s life, along with showcasing some of her writing and drawings. The program asks participants to look for the best in others, dream big, choose positive influences, speak with kindness, and to start their own chain reactions.
Two pieces with the most influence are usually an essay Rachel wrote in school about her code of ethics and a traced drawing of her hand. In it she wrote, “These hands belong to Rachel Jay Scott and will someday touch millions of people’s lives.” Little did she know, they have, just in a different way than she expected.
Meltzer said she’s seen the program have a transformative impact on students in the past. She said students truly connect to the presenter and each student leaves with the capability of making a difference in their community because they realize they can.
“Their eyes have been opened and they want to make the change,” she said.
More than 18 million people have attended a Rachel’s Challenge assembly, and an additional 2 million are attending a Rachel’s Challenge program each year.
“In the wake of all of the headlines we have been experiencing about school violence and the changes we are making, everything in response to Sandy Hook has been about school safety and people debating the best way to keep students safe,” Meltzer said. “There’s been almost no discussion about starting where we all live, and that’s right here in our community. We need to learn to treat each others with respect, reach out to stop bullying and reach out to those who have been left on the sidelines.”
The program open to the public will take place at the Bethlehem High School on Thursday, March 7, at 7 p.m. No RSVP is required.
“We have a wonderful school,” said Meltzer. “We all have the ability to make a difference in this world, but I think sometimes students forget about the difference they can make before they leave their own community.”