WESTFIELD – For the second year, students in Westfield have been challenged to lead a life of kindness and compassion by someone they will never meet. Rachel’s Challenge, a program started to honor the first victim of the shooting at Columbine High School, visited schools in the district on Sept. 28, 29 and 30.
Rachel Joy Scott was a senior at Columbine when she and 11 other students and a teacher were murdered in what is considered one of the worst school shootings in history.
After Scott’s death, her family found journals and essays in which she wrote about the importance of spreading compassion and how she wished to touch the lives of people around the world.
Now, with Rachel’s Challenge reaching 22 million people, she has.
In the presentation at Westfield High School, Eliana Reyes, of the organization, said the point of Rachel’s Challenge was to start a “chain reaction of kindness” in the school and in their lives. The challenge, she said, is broken into five components: looking for the best in others, dreaming big, choosing positive influence, speaking with kindness and starting your own chain reaction.
“I hope the students internalize the message and realize the power they have as individuals to change the community and start their own chain reaction,” Reyes told Reminder Publications.
Reyes said in other communities, students have been deeply impacted by Scott’s story. The organization has received emails from students who felt alone and considered self-harm before taking part in the program and from those who realized they have mistreated their peers and wanted to fix it.
Interim Principal Dennis Duquette said Rachel’s Challenge aligns with the school culture he is hoping to create.
“We want to build a school environment of kindness, compassion, trust and a sense of humor. The students feel it. They kids like coming to school every day,” Duquette said. “Rachel’s Challenge is perfect. It’s what our current year is based on.”
Duquette said the most crucial part is making sure the lesson learned from the program sticks throughout the rest of the year. Each class cycled through the auditorium during the morning, and in the afternoon, preselected students returned for the Friends of Rachel Club (FOR Club) training. The club will be open to any interested students.
The program encourages students to not take the easy way out. Duquette said it is easy to be negative, but positivity and saying yes to questions asked of you is empowering.
Reyes echoed this in the presentation.
“You have the power with your words and actions to bring out the best in people,” Reyes said. “When you expect the best in someone, you find the best in someone. When you expect the worst in someone, you find the worst.”
Sgt. Eric Hall of the Westfield Police Department has helped bring the program to the district for the past two years, including an additional presentation that was open to the public on Sept. 30.