BECKLEY, W.Va. — A group of local leaders, students and faculty gathered in Woodrow Wilson High School’s auditorium Monday for the start of an initiative in Raleigh County Schools.
Rachel’s Challenge was started shortly after the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado on April 20, 1999. With a death toll of 15, it was the largest high school shooting in America until the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting last February.
Rachel Joy Scott, a 16 year-old junior, was the first to be killed in the Columbine massacre. She was known to write and draw frequently. One of her most famous lines was from her final school essay written just one month before she died.
“I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion, then it will start a chain reaction of the same,” she wrote. “People will never know how far a little kindness can go.”
Rachel’s brother, Craig Scott, spoke to the crowd at Woodrow Wilson Monday. He will also spend a day with students to help them start their Rachel’s Challenge program.
Craig Scott was a sophomore student in the library of Columbine when the shooting occurred. This is where the most students were killed, totaling 10. Two of Craig’s friends, Matt and Isaiah, were murdered in front of him. He would not find out until after fleeing the school that his sister was killed while eating lunch with a friend outside.
“I think that every student deep down wants their school to be a place where they’re accepted, where there’s respect, where people are treated with kindness,” said Scott. “So I think that this story can help be a catalyst to help that happen.”
Rachel’s Challenge starts by encouraging students to follow five steps, based on her journal writings:
1. Choose positive influence
2. Dream big and be aware
3. Kind words and actions
4. Look for the best in others
5. Start a chain reaction
“We took her writings and stories that we heard of things that she did for other students and started sharing them in schools. We share that the shooters at Columbine wanted to start a chain reaction of anger and hatred, and we let it be up to them. What chain reaction are you going to start with your words and actions?”
Scott added he can appreciate why people are fighting for stricter federal gun policies, but doesn’t believe this should be a political issue.
“I think there’s a number of things to help prevent school shootings from happening that can help. But the deepest thing to me is cultural and heart issue. It’s the students themselves and so I try to focus on values that help us all come together, be connected.”
Raleigh County Schools Superintendent David Price learned about Rachel’s Challenge through a state meeting. He said there are procedures in his school system in the event of a violent threat, but there is also another focus to help reduce the chance of such an event.
“If anytime this would occur in our school system we have a safe schools plan. But the first thing we want to do is make sure we’re proactive, taking an approach to make sure that we’re always promoting kindness and treating individuals the way they need to be treated…with respect.”
Price believes having Scott kick-off the program in Raleigh County will enhance the students’ learning experience.
“To really show and demonstrate what that really looks like, day to day, will have an impact with our students. And it brings something close to them that they can relate to.”
Scott will work with Woodrow Wilson students Tuesday through presentations and training. Scott will give another public presentation Tuesday evening at 6 pm in Woodrow Wilson High School’s auditorium. The event is free and open to the public.
“She was an inspirational young girl that challenged people to treat each other right,” said Scott. “I definitely think the spirit of her is behind our program, through me, through my family and through our other speakers that have committed their lives to sharing her story and trying to make a difference that way.”
For more information on Rachel’s Challenge, visit their website.