Students start a chain reaction

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Rachel’s Challenge issues five challenges to Eminence, Henry County students

By Jonna Spelbring Priester

During her brief life, Rachel Scott was devoted to making a positive impact in the lives of others.

On April 20, 1999, Scott became the first victim of what was then the deadliest school shooting in America at Columbine High School in Colorado.

After her death, Scott’s family picked up her goal of having a positive impact, and created Rachel’s Challenge.
At Henry County Public Schools and Eminence Independent Schools last week, students were presented with Scott’s story, and Rachel’s Challenge.

Thursday morning at Eminence Independent Schools, middle and high school students were silent as they watched coverage of the Columbine shootings, which happened before some of them were born. By the end of the footage, students wiped tears from their faces.

Nasha Smith then began to share Scott’s story, and issued the students before her five challenges.
The first challenge? Find the best in others.

“You have the power to bring out the best in other people,” Smith told the students. “I’m not telling you that by looking for the best in others the world will change. But what will change is the way that you see other people.
According to Scott’s own writings, Smith said, “you shouldn’t judge someone by the first, second or third impression, because sometimes, people can just be having a bad day.”

The second challenge Smith presented to the students was to dream big. “It doesn’t matter how big you are, doesn’t matter how small you are,” she said. “It doesn’t matter how much money you have, how much money you don’t have, what type of clothes you wear, or even who your parents are.

“After you dream big, we want you to write down your goals. Once you write them down, they become more practical.”

Smith also asked the students to keep a journal, in an effort to keep a record of their goals.
In telling the students about some of Scott’s influences, including Anne Frank and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Smith issued the third challenge: choosing positive influences.

“Whether we believe it or not, the people that you hang around, the type of music you listen to, the type of books that you read, actually have an impact on the type of person that you’ll become. So we ask that you choose positive influences,” Smith said.

Scott, Smith said, tried to be a positive influence, quoting from Scott’s diary, “I want to reach out to those who have special needs because they’re often overlooked. I want to reach out to those who are new at school because they don’t have any friends yet. And I want to reach out to those that are being picked on or put down by others.”

“In her two years at Columbine, Rachel did just that,” Smith said.

Following Scott’s death, her family received emails, phone calls and letters from people in those groups whom Rachel reached out to. They included a new student who had been having her worst day at school until Scott reached out to her, making it her best day at school; a special needs student who was being bullied; and more.

“You have people in this school every day, you see them in the halls, and you never really know what someone else is going through,” Smith said. That led to the fourth challenge: to speak with kindness, for words have the power both to heal and to hurt.

“We want to do something huge, something epic, something really dramatic to make a difference, but we don’t understand that it is the millions and millions of tiny things, the little things, that actually make a world of difference,” Smith said.

In some communities where Rachel’s Challenge has been presented, students keep track of their small acts of kindness with a link in a chain. At some of those schools, the chains are miles long, including a four-mile long chain at an Orange County, Calif., school. That chain represented more than 250,000 acts of kindness.

“Rachel started that chain reaction to win people’s hearts,” Smith said, adding that starting the chain reaction was one of her life’s goals. “Today, that dream, that goal, has become a reality.”

Finally, Smith challenged the students to start their own chain reaction. That begins in part, she said, by going to those they care about and letting them know just how much they care.

“At the beginning of this assembly, we honored people that are no longer with us,” she said. “What I want us to do now is think about the people that are in our lives today.

“The last challenge that I want to give to you today is for you to go to those seven to 10 people... and let them know how much you care about them, how much they mean to you, how much you love them. And when you do it, don’t do it in a joking manner, do it seriously. Speak from the heart. When you do... if anything ever happens to you, they’ll be so glad that you had this conversation. And if anything ever happens to them, you’ll be glad that you did.”

Following the Eminence assembly, Superintendent Buddy Berry challenged the students to perform one act of kindness every week until the end of school. “If we do that,” he said, “(we’ll have) one mile of acts of kindness lined up.”

Later in the day, students who would take part in the Friends of Rachel club gathered for training. “It’s not really a club,” Smith said. “It’s more of a program. It’s a way for us to keep this culture of compassion and kindness going at the school.”

In thanking the students for their time, Scott said their hands were an extension of Scott’s. “Because your hands are an extension of Rachel’s hands... it’s proving that the chain reaction (of kindness and compassion) is still continuing.”

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