MIDDLEPORT — Royalton Hartland Middle School took on Rachel's Challenge for the ninth time Tuesday, and this year the national organization sent a representative to document the event at the school.
Rachel Scott was the first student killed in the 1999 Columbine High School shooting, and in her memory her family decided to spread the message of kindness and compassion that she embodied. The idea behind Rachel's Challenge is to create a positive chain reaction to counteract those who push negativity and hate, like the Columbine shooters.
The two-day event includes a speech by Rachel's Challenge to fifth-grade students experiencing it for the first time, and a different speech to sixth-graders. Both classes are given a different set of goals to meet.
Fifth-graders are challenged to appreciate others, respond to others' needs, stop something that seems wrong, respect someone and refrain from prejudging them, and forgive yourself and others. Sixth-graders are challenged to eliminate prejudice, dream, and choose positive influences and kind words.
Seventh- and eighth-grade students are participating in Rachel's Challenge workshops and activities today.
A part of Rachel's Challenge at Roy Hart has fifth-grade students putting a handprint on a wall to show that they have accepted the challenge — and will touch hearts by showing kindness and compassion. Before they're allowed to make their handprint, the students are expected to swear an oath to help create that chain reaction of positivity.
"The handprints symbolize that the students here in this middle school, like Rachel Joy Scott, are going to someday touch millions of hearts," Principal John Fisgus said.
Fisgus said students react emotionally to Rachel's Challenge; it really opens some students' minds, he added.
"These kids leave there with a sense of, 'jeez I thought I was the only one going through that and I got to see other kids that were going through things' ... and so the kids get an appreciation for who they truly are and who the other kids are," he said.
"I'm telling you, what a difference in this building. Granted, they are middle school kids but I just don't see the negativity and the fighting and the bullying you would typically expect out of a middle school," Fisgus said. "And I think one of the things is just the visualization of what we expect here. The kids really take it to heart."
The family of Meghan Redenbach, a Roy Hart student who died from cancer in 2010, was involved in Rachel's Challenge activities at the school on Tuesday. They believe that Meghan embraced the same message of kindness, compassion and selflessness that Scott did.
"The connection with Meghan and Rachel Scott is Rachel was very kind and a go-getter and Meghan was exactly the same way. She cared about everyone ... . And when Meghan passed away she asked us to carry on her legacy as they did with Rachel's Challenge," Nancy Redenbach said.
Some high school students dropped by the middle school to reminisce about their experiences with the challenge as well.
Freshman Jaivier Rodriguez, a previous winner of the Rachel's Challenge Award, said the challenge "means that you keep being nice to one another and you try to help each other."
Added junior RayLynn Chraston, "Rachel's Challenge is not only a challenge but it's like a way of life and living; putting others first and trying to make people happy, because not everybody has the best of lives. ... trying to go out of your way and make other people happy is a good way to live."