Program on compassion reaches students, parents

By: Sara Kandel | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published February 3, 2012

 Members of the student government at Eastland Middle School in Roseville pose with a Rachel’s Challenge sign that almost all the students in the school signed in committing to the cause of kindness.

Members of the student government at Eastland Middle School in Roseville pose with a Rachel’s Challenge sign that almost all the students in the school signed in committing to the cause of kindness.

Photo by Sara Kandel

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ROSEVILLE — At a Jan. 31 assembly, students at Eastland Middle School in Roseville got a small lesson in recent history and learned a lot about compassion and kindness.

“Rachel’s Challenge is all about the life of Rachel Scott, who was the first student killed during the Columbine shooting in 1999, on April 20,” said speaker Bill Sanders. “After she died, her family found six diaries that she had left, and they were just amazed and overwhelmed with the wisdom they found in those diaries.”

The program, which recapped the Columbine shootings for an audience that for the most part wasn’t born yet or was too young to remember, showed video footage from the tragic day at the Colorado school with the tape from the 911 call playing over it, then moved on to Rachel’s story.

“Her goal … well, she believed in every day doing targeted acts of kindness,” Sanders said. “The three groups of students she targeted every day or kept on the look out for, were students that were being picked on or made fun of, new students because she said they hadn’t made friends yet, and students who had special needs. And every day she did targeted acts of kindness for those students and others.”

On a big screen in the front of the room, Sanders, a full-time speaker and program developer for Rachel’s Challenge, showed pages from Rachel’s diaries, highlighting lines that emphasized her beliefs in compassion and her work to treat others with kindness, while a girl’s voice in the video read the lines.

At points, Sanders would pause the video and repeat lines from the journal entries.

“Compassion is the greatest form of love that humans have to offer.”

“Right is right even if no one does it, and wrong is wrong even if everyone does it.”

Throughout most of the assembly, the students sat silently with their eyes transfixed on the screen while video testimonials played from students who say Rachel changed their life. A few students had to occasionally dab at tearing eyes, but for the most part, the entire student body sat silently absorbing the message.

“I’m already hearing back from teachers that there is a change in their classrooms, that the students are being especially nice and well-behaved since participating in the assembly,” said Cindy Faulkerth, the school counselor and student congress sponsor at Eastland, in the days following the event. “It was impactful and it really spoke to the heart, and he really spoke to students, asking them to think about people in their lives and how they treat them.”

The assembly presented the students with five challenges: to look for the best in others and eliminate prejudice, to have goals and keep a journal of those goals, to speak with kind words, to forgive themselves and others, and to choose positive influences.

“Rachel, one of her main influences, was Anne Frank, who died during World War II in a concentration camp, and what’s amazing is that she died because of the prejudice of Adolf Hitler toward Jewish people, and, well, Rachel also died because of Adolf Hitler,” Sanders said. “The boys chose April 20 — (Hitler’s) birthday — because he was their main role model, so he was indirectly the cause of Rachel’s death, as well.”

Sanders explained to the students how something as simple as picking a good role model could have a huge effect on the type of people they become and how they treat others. He told them that it was important to forgive and showed a video clip of Rachel’s sister talking about how Rachel would always reach out to her and apologize if they had a fight.

Then he played a video clip of a student who said he didn’t know who Rachel was until a few days before her death when she saw him pulled over on the side of the road trying to change a tire at night in the rain and jumped out of her own car, held an umbrella over his head and shined a flashlight on the tire. He told the students Rachel’s actions in that instance weren’t smart, that he wouldn’t want any of them to do that when they drive, but that the meaning behind her actions was kindness. And kindness was the message they took back to their classrooms after the assembly.

“I didn’t think it would make such a big impact on people, but it did,” said seventh-grade student Madison Kurtz. “My goal now is to make an impact on people and let them know it’s always better to say you’re sorry, then just let it go. The past couple days after hearing about Rachel’s Challenge, I’ve been trying to help out my parents and my friend if they get into an argument.”

“I really liked it, and me and my friends joked saying we were sweating through our eyes,” said sixth-grade Project Jumpstart student Jacoby Dale. “It was really moving. My favorite part was when the brother said that he hated those kids for killing his sister, but had to forgive them because the hatred was eating him alive. It made me think I should start being nice to people even when they aren’t nice to me.”

In addition to the assembly, 100 students were selected for FOR, or Friends of Rachel, training to form a club to spread kindness around the school, and Sanders gave a special presentation for parents and community members at 7 p.m.

“Everything I do is to help the students, so that’s why I talk to the parents too,” he said. “Students and parents can both be challenged by Rachel’s writings.”

For more information on Rachel’s Challenge, visit www. rachelschallenge.org.
 

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