FORT MILL — Anyone who has ever sat with a group of middle school students would probably say its difficult to get them all to sit still and listen quietly.
But on Monday morning, at Fort Mill Middle School, a gym full of students didnt make a peep for more than an hour other than the sound of occasional sniffling from tears.
The students were listening to Michael Dorsey, a speaker with Rachels Challenge, a program based in Littleton, Colo., designed to spread the chain reaction of kindness and compassion that Rachel dreamed of, according to Dorsey.
The Rachel hes referring to is Rachel Joy Scott, who was the first victim of the Columbine High School shooting on April 20, 1999.
Since Rachel Scotts violent death at age 17, her family has made it their mission to spread Rachels commitment to acceptance and love of all people around the world.
Dorsey and others go to schools across the country to tell Rachels story and encourage students to accept Rachels Challenge.
The programs one for sixth- and seventh-graders, one for eighth-graders and another evening presentation for community members consisted of a series of video clips and images.
The most emotional moments came when Dorsey played security footage and 911 calls from inside Columbine High School as students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold entered classrooms with guns and opened fire on students and teachers.
There was news footage outside the school and in the community as families reunited with the students who had survived while others waited in anguish for their loved ones who had not.
Teachers and students cried as a tribute to Rachel played, with footage of a smiling toddler juxtaposed with an image of her mother leaning her forehead on Rachels casket, which was covered with messages of love from her family and friends.
Dorsey told the students about Rachels kindness and how she would reach out to anyone she felt needed a friend or a little help and shared with the students the five goals that make up the larger challenge.
You never know the power of kindness and compassion, he told the students.
Rachel kept multiple diaries throughout her life where she shared her thoughts about how people should treat others and how to create a more accepting world. Dorsey shared many of those entries with the students at Fort Mill Middle School.
I thought the presentation was really nice, said Josiah Waldo, 14.
Josiah and his friends were signing the Rachels Challenge banner during their lunchtime, pledging to take the challenge.
It just helps a lot of kids that get picked on and people that dont get treated the way they should, he said.
The person responsible for bringing Rachels Challenge to Fort Mill Middle School is Kim Beels, the eighth-grade special education teacher.
Middle schoolers often need help when it comes to their behavior, she said, and when they found this program, she thought it would be perfect for their school.
I think its going to be a change for the good, Beels said.
Rachels Challenge doesnt end with just one day of programming, she said. About 100 students and 10 teachers will be part of the FOR Club, the Friends of Rachel Club, where they will receive special training in carrying out Rachels Challenge and how to identify and reach out to students who might need a little extra kindness.
We want the chain reaction to begin, she said, referencing Rachels call for a chain reaction of kindness.
For students Carter Richardson and Laura Manning, both 13, this was the first time theyd ever heard of Rachel Scott or even heard much about the Columbine shooting. They werent even alive when the shooting occurred.
It was really moving, Carter said. It makes me want to go do something right now.
Laura said she hopes her fellow classmates will learn to be more sensitive and loving towards one another.
It doesnt matter if students know anything about Columbine or Rachel before the presentation, Dorsey said.
The message transcends culture, he said. It was prolific then, and its prolific now, he said.
While many see Rachels Challenge as simply an anti-bullying campaign, Dorsey said its more than just that.
Dont harp on the problem (of bullying), he said. Find a solution.
Rachel Southmayd • 803-329-4072