Nearly 1,000 King Middle School students watched in stunned silence as television clips from the day of the Columbine High School massacre flashed on a big screen.
The students — just toddlers when the incident took place 10 years ago — sat solemnly on the bleachers and listened to a challenge, asking them to eliminate prejudice, use kind words, dream big and appreciate loved ones.
“Rachel’s Challenge Day” on Tuesday here was named after Rachel Scott, the first student killed on April 20, 1999 at Columbine in Littleton, Colo.
It had been lunchtime when students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold opened fire at Columbine. They killed 12 classmates and a teacher and wounded 26 others before committing suicide in the school’s library.
Rachel died at age 17.
So to create triumph out of tragedy, Rachel’s parents started a nationwide school involvement program based on her positive life outlook. Her acts of kindness before her death, coupled with the contents of her diaries, are the foundation for “Rachel’s Challenge,” a nonprofit organization dedicated to encouraging young people to be more like her.
“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,” she wrote in one diary entry.
Student Yasmin Quiles says most of her classmates at King Middle School are pretty amicable. But the 14-year-old admits she’s seen a few bully one another from time to time.
Her hope is that, after hearing the legacy of Rachel, she and her classmates will learn from it.
During the assembly, Rachel’s family, friends and teachers detailed her life through audio and video footage. Rachel’s brother Craig Scott talked about the last time he saw her, fighting off tears as he recalled getting into an argument with her that morning.
Shane Hamman, two-time Olympic weightlifter from Edmond, Okla., introduced the challenge.
“Lead a life people will remember you by in a positive way,” said Hamman, a friend of the Scott family.
He explained that without his own personal dreams, he would have never made it to the Olympics in 2000 and 2004.
Another of Rachel’s diary excerpts then popped onto the big screen in the gymnasium.
“Don’t put limits on what I can do. I have faith, why can’t you? I won’t be average,” she wrote.
Since its inception shortly after Rachel’s death, the program has visited 3,300 schools in 50 states and six countries, Hamman said. Assistant Principal Brad Scarbrough said King Middle participated in the program to improve relationships and create bonds.
“If it decreases bullying or encourages someone to pay it forward, that is great,” Scarbrough said.
To support Rachel’s legacy, King Middle is forming a Chain Links Club that will be made up of 100 student leaders. Its goal is to help create a permanent cultural change in schools, according to www.rachelschallenge.org
Quiles said she learned how to believe in people and help others during the assembly.
“We should all get along, that’s something I hope some of my classmates will do now,” she said.
Student Matthew Granthan, 13, said he hopes “Rachel’s Challenge” continues to spread to other schools.
“I hope the message does what it says, makes a chain reaction,” he said as he signed his name on a banner in the gym, pledging his support.