NEWBURYPORT — Before she was shot dead by two classmates during an indiscriminate killing rampage in 1999 at Columbine High School, 17-year-old Rachel Scott was poised to make the world a better place. Scott had a theory that small acts of kindness toward fellow human beings could create a chain reaction of subsequent kindnesses with the unlimited power to transform, and throughout her short life, she tested that theory continually by extending a helping hand to those who needed it.
Although Scott couldn't live to see the full effect of her good deeds, she might have been happy yesterday to see the same challenge she lived every day put to students of Newburyport elementary schools. As part of a PTO-sponsored initiative, students in the third, fourth and fifth grades all participated yesterday in the launch of Rachel's Challenge. They were spared the horrific reason Scott's life was cut short, but a representative from the organization started in Scott's name by her family urged students to begin creating the very chain of kindnesses that Scott dreamed about. And looking at pictures of the sweet, smiling girl whose philosophy might have proved the antidote for the kind of hate that prompted the Columbine killing, they were inspired to be more kind.
"It's really based on how we can perform one small act of kindness and compassion for somebody, and there's no telling where it could go," said Molin Principal Lori Gallivan. "It's about starting a chain reaction of kindness and compassion."
Amber Smith, from the Rachel's Challenge organization, introduced students at two separate assemblies yesterday to a girl who loved to wear hats and kept her deepest thoughts in a journal her parents read after her death in 1999. It was among the private thoughts of a teenage girl that they laid the foundation of a program that might help improve the culture in schools across America in the wake of Columbine. And since they began Rachel's Challenge, which rewards good deeds by students with a construction paper "link" in the chain, it's become one of the most effective and influential anti-bully campaigns ever introduced.