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Hempfield students, community accept Rachel's Challenge

| Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014, 8:55 p.m.

Hempfield High School will start off the 2014-2015 school year by giving everyone a lesson on kindness.

On Sept. 3, the school will hold a presentation on kindness, not only for students during the school day, but also for the community in the evening.

The community will gather at 7 p.m. in the high school auditorium to hear a message first delivered by a girl who died 15 years ago in Littleton, Colo.

Rachel's Challenge — a motivational speaking group founded by the parents of Rachel Scott, the first student killed in the Colombine shootings — will put on the events.

“What a perfect time for something like this to be communicated to our students, our staff, our community,” assistant principal David Vezendy said. “It seems like something like this is always on the back burner.”

Rachel's Challenge was created after the Colombine shootings, but it does not focus on gun control or bullying. Instead, Vezendy explained, it focuses on the writings Rachel's parents found in her diary — those that promoted kindness and positivity to make changes.

Teacher Sarah Kucherer, who organized the event along with several student groups, said the presentation is done in two parts for students but in one for the community.

The first part will be similar for students and community members.

The speaker will discuss the Colombine shootings, but will focus more on Rachel's life and the way she broke through the walls of cliques in school, Kucherer explained.

She stressed the importance of the community attending this portion of the presentation.

“The community affects the school and the school affects the community,” she said. “We want our school to be a pleasant, supportive environment, but we want that kindness to spread. The community can send the example for students here at school.”

The second portion will bring together 100 teacher-selected students to carry Rachel's message through the school year.

The speaker will give students practical tips on how to promote kindness, Kucherer said. A website dedicated to the 13 students who died at the hands of two shooters on April 20, 1999, at Colombine High School said about Scott:

“Throughout her life Rachel was an incredibly spiritual person who often wrote to God in her diaries about wanting to 'reach the unreached'. She begged Him for the chance to show others the way, to let her life have some purpose in spreading His word. In 1998 she drew a collage of images that included a rose growing up out of a columbine, with several dark drops spiralling it (you can see this picture on the video ‘Untold Stories Of Columbine'). On the morning of the shootings, she doodled a reprise of the picture: a pair of eyes crying 13 teardrops onto that same rose — the same number of victims the shooters would kill during the massacre just hours later.”

The United Spartans, a new club at Hempfield High School focused on promoting kindness in the school, worked to bring Rachel's Challenge here and to find funding for it, along with other clubs such as the Gay Straight Alliance, the National Honor Society, student government, Spartan Army and Christians in Action.

“The event was started by kids, inspired by them and they raised the money,” Kucherer said.

Because of this, Kucherer and Vezendy hope for a strong student and community response.

“In other assemblies, I see that they're genuinely moved and wanting to do something,” Kucherer said.

She expects the same for Rachel's Challenge.

As for the community members, “I think the thing that a lot of grown-ups don't realize is what schools are like today,” Kucherer said. “There are a lot of stressors that weren't there when we were in high school, and I think this program can help them see that.”

Alicia McElhaney is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6220 or amcelhaney@tribweb.com.

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