By JEROD CLAPP
A week after her story sent tears rolling down the faces of students at Jeffersonville High School, the message of kindness left behind by Rachel Joy Scott still seems to stick around in the hallways.
Scott was killed in the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. But a program started by her father and stepmother, Rachel’s Challenge, focuses on her kindness and how it can improve a school environment.
Though students have had some time away from the presentation at the end of August, Rachel Williams, senior, said she thinks the message has stuck with students who attended the school-wide event and the leadership training seminar.
“I think there’s definitely still a positive wave going on through Jeff High,” Williams said. “I genuinely see people trying to make an effort to get out of their comfort zone, even if it’s as simple as a smile.”
Scott was the first person killed in the shooting. Her parents centered Rachel’s Challenge around her ideas of compassion spreading naturally from one person to another.
During the senior seminar, students learned techniques for combating the behavior of bullies without attacking the bully and reaching out to those who seem withdrawn.
Chandler Dale, another senior who signed up for the training seminar, said Scott’s story touched students more than a lot of programs have.
“Not everybody’s an emotional person, but I don’t think I saw one person who wasn’t crying or had some tears in their eyes,” Dale said. “When they see something like that and they see the world isn’t perfect, they’re moved to try to make the best of every day, every moment, every situation they’re in.”
Williams said though some school programs can lose their effect relatively soon after they’re over, she’s seeing Rachel’s Challenge persist.
For her, she said simply giving someone a smile or saying hello has made a difference for her and others.
“I’m just so glad that Rachel’s Challenge came to this school,” Williams said. “This being my fourth year at Jeff High, I’ve seen the most positive impact at this school. I think the environment at Jeff is turning into more of a safe and positive environment where I hope students would feel more comfortable and free to be themselves.”
Williams said she doesn’t think students are still ready to cry over Scott’s story, but they’re not the only ones keeping the message going. Staff have stepped in during their daily 30-minute impact period.
“I think the emotional wave has definitely eased out, but that goes along with anything,” Williams said. “I think it has come down a little bit, but I think with the Jeff High staff and with the impact period we have, it’s able to be brought back up again.”
As the school year progresses, Williams said she thinks the program will continue to have an effect on the school’s culture, but it’s already had an effect on her.
“I think for me, it’s brightened my day because I’m not focusing on what’s going on in my life,” Williams said. “For other people, I think it’s encouraging, too. Everyone is the same and equal, so just to show one simple act of kindness seems to brighten their day. I know it brightens mine.”
Dale said students won’t have the motivational speakers come in every week to remind them of Rachel’s Challenge, but they’re already doing a good job of reminding themselves.
“We kind of lose our sight of that and we don’t always get reminded of it,” Dale said. “But like Rachel said, she just wanted to start a chain reaction. The whole school doesn’t have to know about it to keep it going, it can just be the reaction between one person who helped another.”