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Pelham students accept ‘Rachel’s Challenge’

PELHAM – It was a morning that would have made Rachel Scott proud.

The life and times of Scott, who died at the age of 17 during the notorious Columbine High School massacre, were remembered Nov. 15 during a special assembly at Pelham High School.

Based on the six journals Scott left behind at the time of her 1999 death, the Rachel’s Challenge program continues to inspire the next generation of teenagers, and the 700 or so students at the local high school are no exception.

Using video footage and excerpts from Scott’s journals, program presenter Bill Sanders wove a touching story of how kindness can grow with seemingly simple gestures.

Sanders, a friend of the Scott family, said we could all learn a lot from how Rachel lived.

Established after Rachel’s death by her father, Darrell Scott, the Rachel’s Challenge program encourages teens to follow in his daughter’s footsteps to bring about positive changes in the lives of others, with emphasis on avoiding future tragedies by tackling school violence and bullying head on.

“Her story really touched me,” said sophomore Makayla Gillis, one of the 100 or so student members of her school’s new Friends of Rachel club.

As club members, students are encouraged to accept the challenges outlined in a “code of ethics” Rachel detailed in her journals.

Those challenges include always giving someone another chance, dreaming big dreams, choosing positive friends and influences and speaking with kindness.

“We’re asking you today to consider what kind of kindness could you give to another; how can you give someone the hope to carry on,” said Sanders.

Following Sanders’ speech, the teens were asked to sign an oversized poster, pledging to accept Rachel’s Challenge. Though signing the poster wasn’t mandatory, very few students opted not to sign.

Heather Newman, a guidance counselor at Pelham High School, said the club’s initial goal would be to simply spread the word.

“We’ll work on our random acts of kindness and try to just take it from there,” she added.

Over the past two months, Newman and 10 staff members have worked closely with Sanders to tailor the program to suit the Pelham High School community.

Some of the club members were nominated by their teachers, she noted, though others opted to join after hearing Sanders speak at their school.

Gillis said she, for one, hoped to follow in Rachel’s footsteps by reaching out to her classmates, one at a time.

“I know people who are bullied,” she explained. “It’s just not fair. You have to treat people nice.”

“She’s an inspiration,” fellow sophomore Megan Smithers said of Scott. “She showed us that you can have an impact on peoples’ lives – just by hearing her story, lives are changed.”

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