Archive for Wednesday, January 16, 2008

THS students accept Rachel’s Challenge

January 16, 2008

In Rachel Scott's diary, the former Columbine High School student from Colorado wrote this:

"I will not be labeled average."

Next to the quote is a hole from a bullet fired during the 1999 shootings at the suburban Denver school in which 12 students - including Scott - as well as a teacher were killed. Twenty-three more people were injured during the shooting spree by students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold.

Brandie Orozco shared the story of Scott's diary and the bullet hole during an assembly Thursday at the Tonganoxie Performing Arts Center in Tonganoxie High School.

Orozco works for Rachel's Challenge, a foundation established in Rachel Scott's honor. According to the organization's Web site, rachelschallenge.org, "her acts of kindness and compassion, coupled with the contents of her six diaries, have become the foundation for one of the most life-changing school programs in America - Rachel's Challenge."

Orozco said the bullet hole almost was like an exclamation point to Scott's statement.

Orozco spoke to students in grades 7 through 12 at the high school during the day. And at night, an assembly was open for the public to attend.

The program was made possible earlier in the school year when elementary school counselor Lindsey Graf presented information to the school board about anti-bullying programs for the district. The board unanimously approved funding the school assembly and training program created as a result of the Columbine High School tragedy.

Parallels to another time

Rachel's Challenge consists of four parts:

¢ Look for the best in others: Eliminate prejudice.

¢ Dare to dream: Write goals; keep a journal.

¢ Choose positive influences: Input determines output.

¢ Kind words. Little acts of kindness translate into huge results.

¢ Start a chain reaction.

During the presentation, Orozco spoke about how Anne Frank inspired Scott to keep a daily journal. Orozco also showed the parallel between the two courageous youths. Both kept a daily diary and both died at a young age. Frank died while being held in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II.

During the program, Orozco also spoke about intriguing events that involved Scott. She was known to tell friends she thought she would die young and that she would make an impact on many people.

After her death, Scott's family found something she had drawn behind a piece of furniture in her room. She had traced around her hands on the wall and inside the hands she wrote: "Rachel Joy Scott will someday touch millions of lives."

Finally, during the assembly, Orozco showed footage of an interview with a man who told Rachel's father, Darrell Scott, that he had a dream. In the dream, the eyes of a young girl were crying from the sky to the ground and it made living things grow. The man thought the tears were those of Rachel.

At a later date, while looking through some of Rachel's belongings Darrell Scott found a picture Rachel had drawn.

It showed two eyes crying down toward the ground. A flower was coming out of the ground where the tears were falling. Orozco said there were 13 tears - the same number of people killed at Columbine High School - in the photo.

Accepting the challenge

When the program was finished, students were invited to sign a banner that read "I Accept Rachel's Challenge."

Chase Knea, an eighth-grader at the middle school, reflected on Thursday's assembly after the program.

"I thought it was sad," Knea said. "I thought it was a good idea that we're doing that (the program)."

Preston Gallagher, another TMS eighth-grader, agreed, saying also Rachel's Challenge encourages people "to do the right thing."

Fellow eighth-graders Britney Kabuya and Valery Munoz both said the program was touching and that it almost made Kabuya cry.

She also said the presentation showed everyone can improve the world together.

"Little things can be big," Munoz added.

Orozco said she thought students really understood the message Rachel's Challenge was trying to convey.

'Universal message'

Originally from Colorado, Orozco started working with the organization as a bilingual speaker. She spoke at many innercity schools in Los Angeles in which many students' primary language was Spanish. Now, she travels across the country presenting to English-speaking students.

She noted that she has gone to schools on the East and West coasts, including innercity Los Angeles schools with 3,000 students, as well as Midwest communities such as Tonganoxie.

She said students, no matter where they're from, have been attentive during the programs.

"It's really a universal message," Orozco said.

During Thursday's program, Orozco challenged students to also set goals.

She noted that a Harvard University study found that of students who were asked whether they set goals, only 3 percent said they did. When those same students were interviewed again a few years later, the study showed the 3 percent of students were making more money than the rest of the students combined.

For Rachel

On Thursday, a cross-section of students - roughly 65 from grades 7-12 - were invited to attend a workshop with Orozco and THS administrators. Students separated into groups and discussed what they thought were strengths and weaknesses in their schools.

The students are in the process of forming their own FOR Club, which stands for Friends of Rachel. The club is designed to continue Rachel Scott's chain reaction of kindness and compassion in schools.

THS principal Jamie Carlisle said he was most impressed with how the training session progressed. He said the group plans to meet again "very soon" and that the group likely would have a different name than the FOR Club.

"We're probably going to change the name and probably going to have a little ownership in the program," Carlisle said.

One of the new student programs that Carlisle is excited about is an effort in which "the group makes a concerted effort to greet new students in our high school."

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