- Associated Press - Saturday, September 26, 2015

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Nearly every hand in the room shot up when Montgomery Public School students were asked if they had lost someone they loved within the last year.

It was as heartbreaking as the message of Rachel’s Challenge presented on Sept. 22 at Faulkner University.

More than 1,200 junior high students from Walter T. McKee Middle School, Alabama Christian Academy and Cornerstone Classical Christian Academy came to hear about the life and global impact of one girl, Rachel Scott, who was the first victim in the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School.

Scott was the first of 12 students and one teacher who were shot and killed at the school in Littleton, Colorado, but her voice for kindness and love lives on through Rachel’s Challenge, a movement inspiring students to replace violence, bullying, prejudice and hate with acts of compassion, respect and kindness.

“We talk to all age ranges and our message is kindness and compassion, which is timeless and ageless,” said Michaela Simonds, the speaker for the event. “Junior high is a really hard time and it’s a season when kids are figuring out who they are and that can be really difficult, but we teach them to encourage one another and be kind.”



Simonds presented five challenges to students based on Rachel’s life.

-Look for the best in people and give three chances to do so.

-Dream Big, write your goals on paper and journal the progresss.

-Choose positive influences and be surrounded by them.

-Speak with kindness, because words can hurt or heal.

-Start a chain reaction by telling someone you love them.

The students on Sept. 22 were shown raw news footage of the Columbine aftermath, home videos of Rachel and recorded interviews with Rachel’s friends and family who shared the impact she had on their lives.

From their accounts, Rachel Scott was not afraid to stand up for those who were bullied in school, those who were new at school or those who acted, looked or dressed differently.

Twelve-year-old Corey Taylor, a 7th grader at McKee was one of the students who said he had lost loved ones. His grandmother died of cancer and his cousin was shot by a stray bullet in Montgomery and so, related to Rachel’s story.

“From all that stuff that happen to her, Rachel was a strong woman. She had to have some heart to not be embarrassed do to some of the things that she did,” Taylor said.

Taylor said he was going to start his own chain reaction by telling his mom, dad and cousin that he loved and appreciated them.

Since February, Simonds has been traveling the globe sharing with students. Simonds grew up in Denver, Colorado and was directly impacted by the initial Columbine news. Inspired to join Rachel’s Challenge, she said students are receptive to what she has to say.

“They are very sensitive to what happened and they come a lot of times and share what they’ve experienced in their own lives,” Simonds said. “Some kids will share how they feel impacted to be kinder, some will share how they’ve been bullied in school, some will share about stuff going on at home.”

This is the second year that Faulkner University and the school’s Leadership Counsel have organized and hosted the event. Chris Kratzer, with Faulkner’s public relations office said this year they decided to bring in a younger crowd of students.

“Last year we had mostly high school students come in, so this year we decided to reach out to junior high. We thought since it focuses on bullying prevention, it would be better to reach younger kids and hear that message earlier,” Kratzer said.

Rachel’s life, including her poems, essays and journals found after death have impacted more than 19 million people since her dad and stepmom, Darrell and Sandy Scott, started the nonprofit, Rachel’s Challenge.

Today, students all over the world take the challenge and write acts of kindness on colored paper, link them together and create paper chains to symbolize their school’s “chain reactions” of kindness and compassion. The movement has had a proven impact against bullying, student isolation, teen suicide, discrimination and school violence.

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Information from: Montgomery Advertiser, https://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com

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