Challenge of kindness: Program aims to change school climate, environment

Gunshots rang out in the library during lunch on April 20, 1999. Americans were shaken to their core as the worst school shooting in history took the lives of 13 people. Over the last two decades, more lives have been taken and, with the introduction of social media, bullying has only gotten worse. As these things have increased, so has the public’s level of despondency. Yet despite the looming hopelessness many people feel, lights of hope shine out in the darkness of despair and remind humanity that not all is lost. One program that has given light and hope to many people is Rachel’s Challenge.

Rachel’s Challenge is a program that fosters hope and encourages students to treat each other well by focusing on the life of Rachel Joy Scott, the first person killed in the notorious Columbine High School shooting, and how she lived her short life by being kind and considerate to others.

“It’s a good program because it gets both students and adults to think about what the current culture of their campus is like and think about how it can be changed in a positive way,” Principal Lane Buban said. “It has a good message because it empowers students to make some changes because students spend a lot more time at school than anywhere else other than home.”

Each grade level attended the presentation, though in different sessions at the performing arts center.

“Seeing the entire school rally together to celebrate and remember Rachel’s life and the legacy was very special,” junior Annabel Lee said. “Everyone united together and became one big family.”

Students were particularly touched when when the speaker asked students to close their eyes near the end and focus on the people they love.

“At first, I didn’t want to close my eyes, but as soon as I did, the words touched my heart and made me emotional,” junior Sergio Umanzor said. “When I closed my eyes, I could see all the people I was grateful for, all the people who have been with me through my ups and downs. Then, when I opened my eyes, I saw all the other people crying and being emotional.”

The values Rachel’s Challenge promotes ties in with the Essential Eight, a district initiative designed to encourage values such as kindness, tolerance, and gratitude.

“You heard a lot of the same words with Rachel’s Challenge and the Essential Eight,” Buban said. “We have some different ones like work ethic, but a large part of what is contained in the Rachel’s Challenge piece speaks to the Essential Eight. They go hand-in-hand with one another.”

After the Rachel’s Challenge organization presents to a school, the hope is to create a student-driven club to create a more positive atmosphere at the school through as the “Friends of Rachel” club.

“I wanted to join the Friends of Rachel club because, in hearing all of Rachel’s code of ethics and the way that she lived, it was like hearing my own code of ethics,” Annabel said. “When I found out there was going to be a club to better my environment specifically and help those around me, I took the chance and signed up.”

The Friends of Rachel club allows students to come up with new ideas on how to improve their school and then help implement those ideas.

“I thought it would be cool to help the school, be more friendly towards people, and make the most out of my high school experience,” junior Kindall Zemanek said. “I wanted to help the school grow closer instead of focusing on drama, and try to pull people together no matter what cliques they’re in.”

Members hope that in increasing school unity and decreasing bullying, school will become a more enjoyable place.

“I am hoping, with my fellow Rachel’s Club members, to make Bryan High a much happier, safer, more positive environment so that when people come to school, they’re excited to come, and they’re not afraid to be bullied,” Annabel said. “We spend so much time here at school, we might as well make it good.”

While at the meeting, the students learned methods to deal with bullying on campus and discussed future action to create a better atmosphere at Bryan High.

“The training we received was mostly based on proper ways to handle people when you see someone and they’re being treated terribly,” Annabel said. “We also discussed new projects that we are going to implement very soon at Bryan High.”

Even without being a member of the Friends of Rachel club, Rachel’s Challenge still has large implications and calls for all students to improve.

“It’s important to accept Rachel’s Challenge because we can all make a big change and impact on our school,” Sergio said. “We can have a huge impact just by being kind to one another and helping people out.”

Though there hasn’t been a major impact evident yet, there have been several signs to show that students are beginning to change their mindset.

“In the girls’ restroom, people put up sticky notes with positive words and positive quotes left on the mirrors and stalls in the bathroom,” Buban said. “That was the first thing heard about. I haven’t seen a huge, overall change yet, but I have seen other minor things happen after the Rachel’s Challenge program.”

Rachel’s Challenge teaches students that they are not powerless and can have an impact in the things going on around them.

“It lets kids know that they have a voice, that they don’t have to be silent about things,” Buban said. “I hope they understand that there’s more people that want good than bad.”