MILFORD — Rachel’s Challenge, a school program teaching kindness and compassion that grew as a result of the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, came to Delaware Valley High School on a bitterly cold February night.
The program had been shown to all ninth and tenth graders during the day, during with both Superintendent John Bell and presenter Peter DeAnello said, “You could have heard a pin drop,” referring to the powerful effect the presentation can have on those who see it.
The evening event was aimed at parents mainly. The presentation is based on the life and writings of Rachel Joy Scott, the first victim of the shootings. They were found after her death.
DeAnello outlined how Rachel’s parents had no idea what Rachel had written in her diary prior to the shooting. Arguably her most poignant writings were found in her notebook that was pierced by a bullet that hit her backpack, some of which were written hours before the shooting that left 13 dead and 27 wounded.
Rachel seems to have had a premonition of what was about to happen, DeAnello stressed throughout the presentation that included slides interspersed with anecdotes about Rachel’s life and what her message is.
“People will never know how far a little kindness can go,” and “Start a chain reaction of kindness,” are mottos taken from Rachel’s writings that summarize her message of hope.
DeAnello reported the program goes all over the country, and beyond. “I’ve been to 38 states now,” he said.
The program has grown so much there are a number of presenters.
“The children are amazing, the students are amazing. The admin and teachers who brought us here, congratulations, I appreciate it,” he continued.
Rachel’s role models included Anne Frank and Dr. Martin Luther King. She read their writings and modeled her challenge, or codes on what they, also, had to say.
Her codes include: don’t pre-judge or be prejudiced by a person’s appearance or anything else; look for the best in others; and dream big.
Rachel reached out to three groups in particular during her short life. She approached students with special needs; stood up for those being bullied; and new students who often faced difficulties finding friends.
Some of them described on the presentation how, “My worst day became my best day” after Rachel approached them.
“Speak with kindness,” and “Words can hurt — but also heal,” are Rachel’s other messages.
DeAnello spent time also talking about the high school teacher Dave Sanders who died in the Columbine tragedy.
“When everyone else ran out, he purposely went up the stairs to plead with the shooters. He laid down his life for his students,” he explained, “He saved hundreds of students’ lives.”
Rachel had a precognition she would die young, and she thought it was ‘no big deal’, her friends reported after her death. Although she talked about it to them all the time, her parents didn’t have any idea until they found her writings. She also knew her life would have an impact on the world, drawing a picture of her eye from which 13 tears were dropping, out of which a rose grew hours before her death. 13 people were killed in the tragedy.
DeAnello finished by asking the students to sign Rachel’s Challenge, pledging to start their own chain reaction of kindness in the school.