Photo by John F. Russell
Christi Valicenti, left, Gaby Strnad, center, and Brooke Bumgarner, right, sign a banner for Rachel’s Challenge. Hundreds of students at Steamboat Springs High School attended the Rachel’s Challenge assembly, which explained the concept behind the school-based program that motivates students to make a positive change in the way they treat others, at the high school on Wednesday. The program is named after Columbine High School victim Rachel Scott and is designed to encompass the young woman’s kindness and compassion.
Steamboat Springs Each Steamboat Springs High School student took something different away from the Rachel’s Challenge presentation Wednesday.
“It made me realize you shouldn’t judge people for their looks,” freshman Kyla Taylor said.
“Saying that you love someone because you don’t know what’s going to happen …,” said freshman Heather Seams without elaborating. “That really, really hit me hard.”
“I just think it opened up a lot of our eyes that a little bit goes a long way,” junior Lexie Baden said.
Rachel’s Challenge was created in honor of Rachel Joy Scott. The 17-year-old was the first victim during the Columbine High School shooting April 20, 1999.
Shortly after Scott’s death, her father, Darrell, created Rachel’s Challenge, a program intended to end bullying and school violence by encouraging students to make positive changes in their lives, schools and communities.
The challenge is based on an essay Rachel Scott wrote six weeks before her death and her other writings and drawings.
“Compassion is the greatest form of love humans have to offer,” Scott wrote in the essay. “… My definition of compassion is forgiving, loving, helping, leading, and showing mercy for others. I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion, then it will start a chain reaction of the same. People will never know how far a little kindness can go.”
Rachel’s Challenge presenter Mike Hills challenged the more than 600 high school students to accept the pledge. He encouraged them to start a chain reaction of kindness and compassion through five challenges.
They are: looking for the best in others to eliminate prejudice, daring to dream by writing down goals and keeping a journal, choosing positive influence, offering kind words and little acts of kindness to others because they yield huge results, and starting a chain reaction.
“Students from California to the Carolinas, from Minnesota to Texas, and in countries like Australia, New Zealand and Ireland have heard this message,” Hills said, referring to the more than 13 million people who have heard the presentation. “Rachel’s goal of starting a chain reaction has happened.”
Steamboat Springs High School Principal Kevin Taulman said he hopes students take ownership of perpetuating the program’s message.
“We’ve done other assemblies, and they’re great, but the point of this one is to have a lasting impact,” he said.
Senior Katie Lettunich’s senior project is to put what the students heard into action.
After a training session Wednesday afternoon, which about 100 students attended to learn about different activities and events that would carry Rachel’s Challenge forward, Lettunich said a club would start as soon as possible to help plan those.
“We don’t want to have the assembly and afterwards weeks go by and we lose that motivation,” she said.
During the training session, Hills encouraged the students to use their Friends of Rachel club to create a series of programs, such as one to better integrate new students into the school or another to write letters once a month to unappreciated groups at the school.
After learning that the presentation was scheduled for the high school, Steamboat Springs Middle School counselor Brande O’Hare arranged for middle school students to see it today. She said students are provided education about bullying, how to recognize and report it, starting in middle school.
O’Hare said she hoped Rachel’s Challenge would reinforce that education through peer interaction.
“It’s one of those things where, if the kids buy into kindness and compassion, it goes a lot further than when adults tell them what to do,” she said.
O’Hare said the middle school received grants from the Steamboat Springs Middle School Parent-Teacher Information Committee, Rotary Club of Steamboat Springs and the 14th Judicial District Attorney’s Office department of juvenile diversion to pay for the presentation.
A public presentation, which was slightly different from the high school presentation, was held Wednesday night for members of the community.
Steamboat Springs School Board member Laura Anderson attended the morning presentation for students but said she planned to return that night.
“I thought it was powerful and wonderful,” she said. “This message was meant to be passed on.”