Downers Grove Students Hope to Inspire 'Chain Reaction of Kindness' in Memory of Columbine Victim
"Rachel's Challenge," founded in memory of Columbine High School shooting victim Rachel Joy Scott, will teach students to combat bullying through kindness and compassion.
Students at two Downers Grove middle schools are hoping to combat bullying this year with new clubs that promote kindness and compassion.
Inspired by Rachel's Challenge, a nationwide program that champions a "culture of kindness," Herrick and O'Neill middle schools in Downers Grove Grade School District 58 have started "Friends of Rachel" clubs to tackle issues with bullying, self-esteem and exclusion.
The program was suggested by O'Neill principal Christine Clavenna, who saw its successes at her previous school in Mokena.
"Middle school is a time when we see a lot of students struggling with things like bullying and feelings of isolation," Clavenna said. "I really loved this program at my old school because it was all about positivity and hope."
Rachel's Challenge was started by the family of 17-year-old Rachel Joy Scott, the first student killed during the Columbine High School shooting in 1999. The program was inspired by writings and drawings in several of her journals, which contained her hopes and dreams for the world.
Not long before Rachel died, she wrote an essay titled "My Ethics, My Codes of Life," in which she outlines her most sacred values—honesty, compassion, and "looking for the best and beauty in everyone."
"Compassion," she wrote, "is the greatest form of love humans have to offer."
(Read complete essay in the attached PDF.)
Rachel concluded: "I am sure that my codes of life may be very different from yours, but how do you know that trust, compassion and beauty will not make this world a better place to be in and this life a better one to live? My codes may seem like a fantasy that can never be reached, but test them for yourself, and see the kind of effect they have in the lives of people around you. You may just start a chain reaction."
Through Rachel's Challenge, more than 18 million students and parents have been inspired to start their own "chain reactions of kindness."
"Rachel's father, Scott, felt a tremendous burden to share her story with the world and make sure that her words inspired others," said Nicole Voelkel, a speaker who travels the country promoting Rachel's Challenge.
Voelkel visited District 58 on Oct. 24 for the kick-off assembly at O'Neill Middle School. She shared an emotional video with students, detailing Rachel's life and the Columbine shooting.
"It's usually a pretty powerful experience for these students, many of whom either weren't alive for Columbine or are too young to remember," Voelkel said. "But the hope is that they hear Rachel's story and they take something positive from it—that they're inspired to treat others the way she did."
During the assembly, students learned Rachel's five challenges: look for the best in others, treat others the way you want to be treated, choose positive influences, speak words of kindess, and forgive yourself and others.
Following the presentation, about 100 students from both O'Neill and Herrick met to discuss how their Friends of Rachel clubs could make an impact at their schools. Ideas ranged from mentoring programs to placing kind notes in students' lockers.
"What I love about the program is that it's student-centered," Clavenna said of the program. "It tackles some very big issues through very simple acts of kindness, and it's all coming from the students, which I think is important."
Throughout the year, students and teachers at both schools will document their acts of kindness on pieces of paper, which they will use to create a physical chain of kindness. The chains will be on display around the schools, and at the end of the year they will be joined during a special celebration.
"I can't think of a more meaningful way to represent Rachel's Challenge and the positive things these students will be doing throughout the year," Clavenna said.
For more information on Rachel's Challenge, visit www.rachelschallenge.org.
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