It was April 20, 1999, when two gunmen, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, opened fire on their classmates at Columbine High School in Colorado.
The two gunmen killed 12 students and a teacher and injured 27 others before killing themselves.
The first student to die that day was 17-year-old Rachel Scott.
Scott’s family wanted to make something positive after her death. They created Rachel’s Challenge, a program which they hope will help people around the world to treat each other better, a “chain reaction of kindness and compassion.”
This program has come to Centennial Middle School in the West Valley School District. Last week, a representative from Rachel’s Challenge came to the school and gave a presentation during an assembly to introduce the program.
The students sat in stunned silence; some wiped tears from their eyes while they watched clips from the news of that day. Many of them weren’t born when the tragedy happened or were too young to remember.
“Tragedy is not the purpose of Rachel’s Challenge,” said Adam Northam, the representative for the program.
He challenged them to make five changes in their lives.
The first was to eliminate prejudice from their lives – not just racial prejudices but the tendency we have to judge people before we get to know who they are. Maybe someone is having a bad day when you first meet them.
“Look for the best in others and we can eliminate prejudice,” Northam said.
The second was to treat others they way you want to be treated. Northam asked the students if they had heard that phrase before, and every student raised a hand. He asked them how many of them thought about treating others that way every day. Not all of them raised their hands.
The third challenge was to choose positive role models. Northam explained that the two shooters chose Adolf Hitler’s birthday to stage their attack on the school. He said Rachel left behind six journals which she wrote after reading about Anne Frank. She quoted from Martin Luther King Jr.
The fourth was to speak words of kindness, not cruelty.
The fifth challenge was to forgive others as well as yourself. Northam talked about Rachel’s brother, Craig, who argued with his sister the morning of the shootings. The last words he said to her were in anger. Northam said Craig was very angry with himself and the shooters for a long time after Rachel’s death and began to take out that anger on the people around him. It wasn’t until he learned to forgive both himself and the shooters that he could move forward.
“It’s OK to forgive yourself,” Northam said.
The school put up a banner which the students signed as a pledge to spread positive change. Counselor Tammy Rogers said she is training 100 students in the program.
“I want to make it a lunch club,” Rogers said. She wants to include every student, not just the 100 trainees.
Eighth-grader Rianne Ellingwood said the assembly was very emotional for her.
“I cried,” she said. “It was inspirational.”
She said she was probably a year old when the shootings happened and hadn’t heard about it before. She planned to attend the training.
“Last year there was a lot of bullying,” she said. Some students shoved others into the lockers, and she said there was name-calling.
But she said it’s getting better this year.
Darby Howat, another eighth-grader, said she found the assembly interesting, too.
“It teaches us how to live our lives,” Howat said.