Rachel’s Challenge causing kindness frenzy at RJK, community event planned

Rachel Joy Scott, first casualty of the Columbine High School Massacre

At 13 years old, Rachel Joy Scott traced the outline of her hands on the back of her dresser and wrote “these hands belong to Rachel Joy Scott and will someday touch millions of people’s hearts” within the hand print. Even though four short years later her life was tragically cut short in the Columbine High School Massacre, the prediction that she etched into her dresser has proven true. Nearly 20 years after Rachel’s death, her legacy continues to touch the hearts of students throughout the country, including the hearts of students at Robert J. Kaiser Middle School (RJK) in Monticello.

In November of 2018, RJK launched its “Rachel’s Challenge” initiative. Rachel’s Challenge is an organization, inspired by the life of Rachel Joy Scott, that seeks to reduce incidents of bullying and violence through sharing the story of the late teen. According to a press release from the organization, Rachel’s Challenge awakens individual hope, desire and purpose; which in turn promotes safer, more connected school communities. The program begins with an assembly that tells Rachel’s story, followed by a challenge to students and staff to continue to actively seek and execute ways to make their school and community a kinder place.

a group of students sit around a table and smile as they write cards.
A group of RJK students who have accepted Rachel’s Challenge decorate cards to send to a pediatric cancer patient.

“It’s a really powerful program,” RJK School Psychologist Karen Warden, who acts as the coordinator for Rachel’s Challenge at RJK  said. “So many of our students are just in survival mode and a lot of them put on facades to try to mask the struggles they are facing. This program hits them on an emotional level and helps them to reach that level of empathy that you need if you’re truly going to foster change.”

After the initial assembly, the school was supposed to select just a few students to be ambassadors for the program. More than 100 students signed up.

With so many students touched by the message, an outpouring of creative ideas to spread kindness has sprung up at RJK, including:

  • New Kids Club: a group of students who help new RJK students get acclimated to their new surroundings and incorporate them into their lunch group.
  • Chains of Kindness Committee: a group of students who encourage others to write acts of kindness that they either performed or witnessed on strips of construction paper that are then linked together to form a visual “chain” of kind acts.
  • Mural Committee: a group that is working to help beautify the school’s hallways through arts.
  • Rachel’s Pantry and Rachel’s Closet: a group that facilitates donations of food and clothing for RJK students.
  • Weekly Challenge Group: a group that brainstorms weekly random acts of kindness challenges for their classmates to participate in.

TyLia Huise is one of Rachel’s Challenge’s most fervent ambassadors. The eighth-grade student was inspired by the presentation to make significant positive changes in her own life and also helps to encourage her classmates to do the same.

Eighth-grade student TyLia Huise sits with Guidance Counselor Karen Warden at a desk with a computer.
TyLia Huise and Karen Warden discuss how Rachel’s Challenge is transforming the culture of RJK

“I used to get involved in lots of drama,” TyLia said. “But once I saw the assembly, I realized that some students really do get hurt by words and actions and I decided that it was time to grow up and stop having kid features.”

Since then, TyLia has dramatically elevated her GPA, and is active in several of the Rachel’s Challenge groups.

“She has grown up and matured so much,” Ms. Warden said. “She’s a good leader in her building and I know she is strong enough to carry the message forward when she enters the high school next year.”

On March 5, RJK students will participate in Rachel’s Challenge “Chain Reaction” during the school day – an interactive, day-long event that aims to help students and staff develop even deeper connections with one another.

After the school day is over on March 5, the school will host a community event from 6-7 p.m. in the Monticello High School Arnold Packer Hughs Auditorium. During this event, parents and families will have the opportunity to learn more about Rachel’s story, and have the opportunity to look for little ways to make Monticello, and the world, a kinder place.