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School violence, bullying prevention program ‘Rachel’s Challenge,’ comes to Lancaster

10/06/2018 Lancaster Online By Alex Geli

“I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion, it would start a chain reaction of the same.”

Those words, penned in an essay by 17-year-old Rachel Scott in March 1999, have been seared into the brain of Rachel’s father, Darrell, ever since Rachel’s death.

Six weeks after she wrote the essay, titled “My Ethics; My Codes of Life,” Rachel became the first victim of what at that time was the nation’s deadliest high school shooting. On April 20, 1999, 13 people were killed by two students at Columbine High School in Colorado.

“When Rachel’s life was taken, everything changed,” Darrell Scott said.

Scott has devoted his life to spreading his daughter’s message of kindness and compassion to schools across the globe. He introduced Rachel’s Challenge, a bullying and violence prevention program Scott founded based on his daughter’s life and writings, to the Lancaster and Lebanon communities on Friday.

The all-day presentation, held at the Lancaster-Lebanon Intermediate Unit 13, included Rachel’s story, an overview of Rachel’s Challenge and reflections from school officials who adopted the program. More than 200 school administrators, business owners and politicians from Lancaster and Lebanon counties attended.

‘Life-changing’

Rachel’s Challenge was born in Texas two years after the Columbine shooting. It has since spread to schools around the world. Based on phone calls and emails Scott has received since the program started, he said it has prevented seven school shootings and at least 150 suicides.

The program offers a series of challenges, such as “look for the best in others” and “use words of kindness, not cruelty,” through assemblies, training and teaching materials. Packages vary from around $3,600 to $6,500.

“It might seem simple but you never know what impact it can have on a person.”

Dana Godfrey, a counselor at Northeastern Middle School in York, spoke about her experience running a FOR, or Friends of Rachel, club, in which students created an in-school store, “Rachel’s Closet and Pantry.” A room previously used for students serving in-school suspensions has been transformed into a department store offering free clothing, school supplies and food for students in need.

Godfrey called the experience “life-changing” and “one of the best things I’ve ever done.”

A ‘lost art’

In attendance was Ephrata High School Principal Scott Galen, who helped bring the program to Lancaster County.

Ephrata’s FOR club has printed encouraging messages and distributed them throughout the school, Galen said.

“It might seem simple but you never know what impact it can have on a person,” he said.

Galen described a recent situation in which a new student was roaming the cafeteria, looking for a place to eat lunch. A female student stood up and invited him to sit with her. That moment shows how the club has influenced students, he said.

Other local school officials said they were moved by Scott’s presentation, which brought many to tears.

Manheim Central Superintendent Peter J. Aiken called it "beyond powerful."

Showing kindness, he said, has become a “lost art.” Aiken said he would seriously consider bringing Rachel’s Challenge to Manheim Central, because spreading “kindness and compassion I think can go a long way.”

Conestoga Valley Superintendent David Zuilkoski said he was inspired by the message, particularly its focus on teaching with the heart.

“I’m 100 percent interested in finding out how it can help our kids and our adults,” he said.

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