Rachel’s Challenge comes to East Hartford High School

By Jennifer Coe - ReminderNews
East Hartford - posted Wed., Apr. 3, 2013
East Hartford High School Rachel's Challenge
A poster was signed by dozens of students at East Hartford High School signifying their pledge to live by ‘Rachel’s Challenge.’ Photos by Jennifer Coe.

“Don’t let your character change color with your environment. Find out who you are and let it stay its true color.” – Rachel Joy Scott
Rachel Joy Scott was the first person killed 14 years ago during the mass-shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado. Two students entered the school with homemade bombs and semi-automatic guns, killing 12 students and one teacher, and ultimately killing themselves. Scott was 17 at the time of her death.

On Tuesday, April 2, many community members and parents came to East Hartford High School to hear a presentation entitled “Rachel’s Challenge,” an educational program based on the life and writings of Scott. The presentation was given to the ninth- and 10th-graders during the day and then again to adults gathered in the evening.

The program was brought to the attention of Superintendent of Schools Nathan Quesnel by Board of Education member Stephanie K. Watkins. “I thought it would be great for our school and community,” said Watkins. “I’d like to see the whole mindset changed [around bullying],” she said, adding that “kindness to one another” is her goal.

“We have really been working on school climate,” said Quesnel. “How do we treat each other the right way? It’s all about kindness.”

The presentation began with a sobering video on the events on April 20, 1999. After that, the presenter, Kristi Krings, dug deeply into Scott’s personal life and writings, which since her death have provided her family with insight into her compassionate beliefs and outlook on life.

“My codes 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,” Scott wrote in an essay for school. “You may just start a chain reaction.”

A “chain reaction of kindness” is a recurring theme of the Rachel’s Challenge program. The hour-long presentation, through Scott’s life and outlook, challenges people to get rid of prejudice, to speak with kindness and to choose positive influences, amongst other things - all things that Scott herself had been to known to do. Many anecdotes told of how she reached out to special education students and new students, read books by Anne Frank and Martin Luther King, Jr., and wanted to make an impact in her life. And oddly, Scott was said to speak multiple times of her belief that she would die young. Many friends recalled her mentioning it, not in a somber way, but matter-of-factly.

And so now, even over a decade after her death, Scott’s writings and voice are being heard once again. More than a decade after her death, her words and thoughts are being used to teach high school students to treat one another with kindness and to dream big, to look beyond their school walls to the world that is around them, and to make a difference.

At the end of the presentation, Krings asked everyone to close their eyes and picture those they loved the most. She then challenged them to tell those people that they are dearly loved.

As Rachel Scott said, “Compassion is the greatest for of love humans have to offer.”

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