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West Virginians spread kindness in memory of Rachel Scott

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- On the morning of April 20, 1999, Columbine High School in Colorado lost 12 students in one of America's largest school shootings. One of these students was Rachel Joy Scott.

Though Scott was the first student shot, that isn't what makes her stand out.

Scott had a theory. She believed if one person would show one act of kindness, then it would start a chain reaction of the same. Scott wanted people to be kind to each other.

After her death, her father, Darrell Scott, and her family started an organization in her memory called Rachel's Challenge. It is a program designed to spread kindness and help prevent bullying.

Rachel's Challenge wants students "to place kindness as a priority in their lives in order to create a school culture that is positive for them and their peers," said Teresa McCourt, who introduced Rachel's Challenge to Braxton County.

McCourt is also the chairwoman of the Braxton Kindness Campaign, which is affiliated with Rachel's Challenge. She plans for the Friends of Rachel clubs across the county to participate in numerous activities.

The high school's FOR club assisted with a food drive at the Mountaineer Food Bank in September. The group also encouraged everyone to participate in National Blue Shirt Day (in recognition of bullying) on Oct. 11 by holding a drawing for $100, open to all fans wearing blue at the night's football game.

At the end of the year, the FOR clubs will host a celebratory rally in recognition of their achievements.

McCourt spent three years as a warden at Anthony Correctional Center in Greenbrier County working with men and women ages 18-24 who were convicted of felony offenses. There, she saw how memorable Rachel's story was.

"I saw them in tears as they watched the presentation," McCourt said. "I saw them saying 'Please' and 'Thank you.'"

McCourt believes no child should be fearful of going to school.

"No student should be concerned with how he or she will be treated at school, " she said. "They can't focus on their studies."

All of Braxton County's elementary schools, the middle school and high school participated in the Rachel's Challenge Kickoff Rally Aug. 28 on the high school's athletic field -- or at least they planned to before the weather got in the way.

"The elementary schools' rally was great," McCourt said. "Unfortunately, the middle school and the high school were rained out, but I think we got the message of kindness out."

Each school with a FOR club has a teacher and student body representative. At the high school, the student representative is senior Hannah Belknap, and the teacher representative is Leslie Shiflet. As representatives, they help guide members of the club in designing activities to spread kindness throughout the school.

Shiflet and Belknap hope students will learn to treat others kindly and respect their peers.

"Kindness doesn't have to be big acts; small acts are just as important," Shiflet said.

Even though the rally in August was rained out, Belknap believes it served its purpose.

"The intention of the rally was good," Belknap said. "We performed a good effort, and I think the students got the message: Be kind to one another."

Rachel's Challenge, the Braxton Kindness Campaign and the FOR clubs all hope to spread kindness throughout the schools and start a chain reaction.

For more information on Rachel's Challenge and how to get it started at your school, visit www.rachelschallenge.org.


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