PORTLAND -- It's early afternoon at Sellwood Middle School as more than 100 kids file into the gym. They will skip afternoon classes to attend a special leadership program for “Rachel’s Challenge”.
On the other side of the gym door, Fred, a 'Challenge' facilitator, waits with a message of change.
Rachels Challenge is a full-day event that teaches about the life of Rachel Scott, the first teenager to be gunned down at Columbine High School in Colorado.
“Our biggest hope is that we will see a movement of compassion and kindness just move throughout the kids,” he said.
“Sellwood! Sellwood! How you guys doin?!" Fred shouts into the microphone. The students cheer in response.
The student leaders were invited back for the leadership session to share their reaction to the program. It is built on writings found in Rachel's diary, messages of love and random acts of kindness.
They are willing to be vulnerable in front of each other. A girl in a purple shirt stands in front of the bleachers with a microphone. As she describes what she learned from the morning session, she begins to cry.
“Everybody who I know, I'm so lucky that I know them. And I'm so lucky that they're still in my life right now and I'm so lucky that so many people care for me,” she said. The students lowered their walls that had concealed true feelings.
A boy in a gray hoodie said the morning moved him deeply. “It made me real emotional, and I'll admit it: I cried during the presentation today," he said. "And it just made me realize that everybody's so special and you should treat everybody with respect."
And then they went to work, writing down the change they will create on poster-sized sheets of paper. They brainstormed and shouted out their ideas.
“Live like there's no tomorrow!” one student shouted. They created a kinder future with their words. “We wrote, 'We think people should be more open to differences,'” said one girl. They proclaimed the attitude they will model in their school. “Be more understanding, you never know what someone could be going through,” said another student.
They forged a climate of compassion that they said would extend to every student no matter what.
“I think it’s going to change a lot, actually,” said a boy whose friend had committed suicide after being bullied. The students at Sellwood Middle School created a mission statement of sorts. A statement that everyone is loved and accepted, no matter what.
“I thought it was really inspirational," said a 7th grade boy. “I loved it. I'm so glad it came here."
The Sellwood students created a feeling in their school that they hope would make a cold-blooded, Columbine-type situation impossible. It would also, no doubt, make Rachel Scott very pleased.