A powerful and important assembly was presented to Rosemont Middle School and Crescenta Valley High School students, their parents and fellow community members this week. It was just one man, Craig Scott, standing alone on stage speaking about the loss of a sister that he loved and admired. For a little over an hour this devoted brother held students spellbound with his humor, his dramatic testimony and his sister’s legacy, Rachel’s Challenge.
“My codes may seem like a fantasy that can never be reached, but test them for yourself, and see the kind of effect they have in the lives of people around you. You just may start a chain reaction.”
Those words written by Rachel Scott were the catalyst that inspired her family to reach out to students across America to spread kindness and compassion. That outreach for a “chain reaction” made an impact on students.
Rachel was the first student murdered during the tragic and violent shooting spree at Columbine High School in 1999. She was only 17, but through her journals, essays and the stories shared by her brother Craig of the lives she touched, a glimpse was provided into her world before the shootings began.
On April 20, 1999, Columbine High School became synonymous with school violence. At the time it was the worst high school shooting in U.S. history. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, two students from the school, had a plan to throw pipe bombs into the school, wait for survivors to run out, then shoot them. But their handmade bombs didn’t perform the devastation they had planned, so they just began shooting.
The effects of the La Crescenta assemblies were evidenced by the 300-plus CV students that signed up to join the Friends of Rachel Club hours after the presentation. At Rosemont, about 100 kids signed up.
The community also had the chance to hear the compelling story. On Tuesday night, more than 1,000 parents and children turned out at an assembly at CVHS to hear Scott share his sister’s legacy.
“This is the most powerful assembly we have ever had,” said CVHS Principal Linda Evans.
“I think [the impact of] this assembly will last for a long time,” said a senior student. “He [Scott] came out, not in a suit, but in jeans and T-shirt and just talked. That made a difference.”
Ricky Arvizu is a senior and member of the JROTC. He took his father to the evening assembly. He said he could relate to the isolated students Rachel reached out to.
“The first year of JROTC was tough,” he said.
Wearing the uniform on campus has not always been easy. “But we were taught what we are a part of is bigger than ourselves,” Arvizu added.
The assembly at Rosemont was funded by the PTA, Glendale district’s Safe and Drug Free Schools program and the Rotary Club. At CVHS, the PTSA sponsored the event.
“April 20 was the first warm day of spring [in Colorado],” Scott said. “My sister had eaten lunch outside.”
She was shot just outside the school. The two shooters then hunted other students, entering the cafeteria and the library, and walking the halls.
Scott was in the library.
“I was joking and laughing with my friends one minute, and the next they were dying,” he said.
He spoke of two friends in particular, Matt and Isaiah, who along with him hid in the library.
“Eric and Dylan walked in,” Scott recalled.
They chose Isaiah as a victim. “He was one of the few black students at our school.”
They taunted him and then shot him. “So the last thing Isaiah heard were racial slurs and the last thing he said was, ‘I want to see my mom.’”
The audiences during both the student and parent presentations listened quietly; some wiped their eyes and many hugged friends next to them. Many of the parents at Tuesday night’s assembly were urged by their children to attend.
“I got a call around 3 p.m. [on Tuesday] from my daughter who said ‘I love you,’” said parent Crissa DuCharme. “At first I thought, ‘OK she wants something,’ but then she said, ‘Mom, there is something you have to come to tonight,’ so I changed my plans and I’m here.”
During that evening presentation children often looked over to their parent, in part to make certain their mom and dad were all right and in part to just to ensure that they were there.
The Columbine shooters left the school’s library after they had shot several students. Matt and Isaiah were both dead. Scott described that moment as the most terrifying of his life. He hid under a table and prayed for strength. “I heard a voice tell me to get up,” he said.
The shooters had left and Scott knew those that could move had to leave the library. He yelled to everyone to move and he helped a wounded girl out of the building
Scott and a friend hid behind a car until a police unit drove them to safety. Just before he went with the officers, his friend pointed to a student who had been shot, lying outside the library.
“I looked and only saw a backpack,” he said.
His friend said that the student had been killed. They were then rushed to safety. Scott described looking for his sister and waiting at home all night hoping she would return. The next morning the police told them she had been the first one shot, just outside of the library. It was then he realized the student they had seen the day before was his sister.
“That day my life changed,” he said.
Scott described himself as a “jock” and someone who thought more about his reputation than how others felt.
“I have to say I was a little embarrassed by my sister,” Scott said.
Rachel was a student who would reach out to anyone in need, without regard to her own popularity. Scott told stories of her compassion, how she had helped a student who had been contemplating suicide because of the way he had been treated at school and of a girl who had isolated herself because of a personal loss.
Rachel has been compared to a modern day Anne Frank, not only because she kept journals or because of her compassionate nature, but also because of her ability to view society through wisdom beyond her years.
Frank observed a troubling world as she hid from Nazis during World War II and wrote of making the world better; Rachel embodied that optimism and hope.
In her writings, Rachel predicted her death at a young age but knew she would make a difference.
“I have had a lot of good feedback from [these assemblies],” Scott said of the response of students. “[After one assembly] a student handed me a hit list he had made up.”
Scott said he had also had students who were contemplating suicide speak to him and thank him for his sister’s words of hope. “[At one assembly] a football player stood up and apologized for things he had said.”
He added that he hopes that through the presentations, which reach about 1.5 million people a year, and the establishment of campus clubs, that his sister can become a role model for change.
Scott, too, is taking a cue from his sister’s life in his career as a filmmaker. He graduated from film school last year and knows firsthand how negative influences can change lives. Both shooters had chosen negative media and music to inspire them and to act as a background for their plans. Scott wants to reach out through film in a positive way.
At the end of the assembly, he gave the students five challenges: Eliminate prejudice; dare to dream; chose your influences; use kind words [toward others]; and start a chain reaction by going to five people in your life and tell them how much you care for them.
Friends of Rachel is a club that has been started at both Crescenta Valley High School and Rosemont Middle School after assemblies held on March 23-24. The club is a continuation of what the "Chain Reaction" movement that was talked about at the assemblies.
Over 300 students have joined the club at CVHS and about 100 at Rosemont. The club will put into place positive programs that help kids deal with issues like bullying while creating a positive spin to some typically negative behavior.
For CVHS students who are interested, contact counselor Tamar Kataroyan or teacher John Pehar.
For Rosemont Middle School students can contact teacher Krista McMillin.
For information on Rachel’s Challenge visit their website www.rachelschallenge.com