Through a presentation and way of life that encourages a more positive school environment and culture, Rachel Scott is still inspiring students across the country.
The Friday before Spring Break, the MCISD United in Safety Task Force brought Rachel’s Story and Rachel’s Challenge to all four junior highs in the district. After the morning presentations, about 100 students participated in a training to start a Friends of Rachel club at their school.
Rachel Scott was the first victim in the Columbine High School massacre that occurred in 1999. After the horrific event, her family and friends found Rachel’s journal, as well as an essay about her ethics and codes of life. With these items, along with Rachel’s courage and warmth, a movement was started across the nation.
The United in Safety Task Force has been discussing bringing Rachel’s Story and Rachel’s Challenge to the district and found the funding to make it happen this year. All four middle schools experienced both presentations.
Each presentation was geared toward specific age groups. At Kenneth White Junior High School, Rachel’s Story was presented to sixth and seventh grade students, and Rachel’s Challenge was presented to the eighth grade students.
DeeDee Cooper, from Tennessee, was the presenter for this year’s events. Speaking about Rachel’s life, her impact, and her philosophy made such an impact that there was hardly a dry eye in the gymnasium.
“Today, over 25 million people have heard Rachel Scott’s story, in settings just like this,” Cooper said. “Rachel challenged all of us to dare to dream. Don’t put limits on the stuff you think you can do. Rachel Scott didn’t do that, and because of that, today we’re still talking about her legacy.”
Cooper presents Rachel’s Story and Rachel’s Challenge across the country, sometimes weeks at a time.
“I spend weeks on the road, I don’t see my own family, I miss important events,” Cooper said. “Because what we’re doing out here is that important to me.”
During the Rachel’s Challenge presentation, Cooper spoke about five ways students can improve life at their school.
“I challenge you to look for the best in other people,” Cooper said. “I’m challenging you to dream big, to choose positive influences, to speak with kindness, but most importantly, to start your own chain reaction of kindness in your family and in your friends and in people you care about.”
According to Craig Verley, a member of the United in Safety Task Force, as well as MCISD Director of Public Relations and Marketing, the plans were made well before recent incidents of school violence across the country. During lunch after the talk, students were asked to sign a banner if they were willing to accept Rachel’s
Challenge and promote kindness and compassion in their school.
“They made sure to tell the kids not to sign up unless they were serious about it,” Verley said.
“Signing that banner means that, you know what, I’m not perfect,” Cooper said. “But I’m going to do the best I can to incorporate her challenge in my life.”
After the presentations, 40 sixth graders, 40 seventh graders and 20 eighth graders met at the library to learn about starting a Friends of Rachel club at their school.
The Friends of Rachel club is a student-run organization meant to foster positive energy in school.
The Friends of Rachel club’s aim is to change the culture in learning environments, and make a supportive structure that allows all students to have great experiences every day. Once started, the club will be open to all students at the school and begin working on projects that are meant to encourage good behavior and acceptance of all people.
“We’re just trying to create an atmosphere of kindness,” Cooper said. “It is so easy to do that, you just have to make a decision to do it. That’s all it takes, it’s you making a decision about what you’re going to do and how you’re going to treat people. It’s that simple. There’s not a wrong way to do it, not a right way to do it, it just needs to be done.”
At the end of the training, the kids were split into groups and asked to brainstorm ideas for potential projects they could start in their school. Some ideas from K. White were a compliment wall where students can add or take compliments as they need them, a weekly bag project where students can write encouraging and positive notes or compliments about each other, confidence-building athletic activities, and a fundraiser for students who may need a little help financially.
Verley said that next year, MCISD hopes to bring Rachel’s Challenge to the high school level and continue fostering a safe and supportive learning environment across Mission.
“It’s been interesting to watch the students’ reactions to it,” Verley said. “You can see, boys and girls, you can see that it’s reaching them in a good way, and it’s also going to be empowering them.”