Grace Ballinger – Staff Writer
How do you treat others? Students of HHS were all asked this question as they prepared to hear the story of Rachel Joy Scott, the first girl killed in the Columbine shooting of 1999. Rachel’s story may be tragic, but it is also a story of hope that teaches those who hear it to treat everyone with compassion. Like all inspiring stories, it will stay in the memories of those who hear it. The question is this: how will the students of HHS use the memory of Rachel’s story?
Mr. Cournoyer said that he thought that the program should come to HHS because it “filled a need in the school.” He was concerned that the school was “Not as welcoming as it could be,” especially for students who aren’t in the sports program.
Mr. Murphy, an English teacher involved in the workshop following the presentation, agrees. He says that in our school we “have a lot of students who operate in very small circles or, unfortunately, alone.”
Changing this may require a shift in the way that students at our school view each other. Mr. Cournoyer thinks that the messages of eliminating prejudice and looking for the best in others will do a lot for students. He says that “If you can look beyond what a person is wearing or what you know about them it really goes a long way toward breaking down barriers.”
Mr. Cournoyer believes that if students and staff in the school can do this it will better the atmosphere of the school and lead to a culture of kindness here at HHS. He believes that in this school it is “Cool to be kind, but also cool to be cruel” and that as a school we need to work on eliminating the latter of these two views.
Rachel’s message is one that is easily applies to situations like this. She bases her formula for change on compassion, and said in one of her essays “If one person can go out of their way to show compassion, then it will start a chain reaction of the same. People will never know how far a little kindness will go.”
At the training meeting after the assembly, ideas for how our school could put the kindness that Rachel so strongly advocated to good use were shared and discussed. Some of the ideas included a new student program, a target letters program where students write letters to the people who are not usually appreciated in the school, a mix it up day where groups of students are encouraged to sit with a group they would not typically sit with, and a chain-links program where acts of kindness are formed into a physical chain. It is undetermined whether any of these programs will be implemented at our school, but the students involved in the workshop will meet again soon to organize their ideas and begin to carry out a plan.
The group deals with carrying out Rachel’s ideas on a large scale, but Rachel’s ideas can also be carried out on a smaller, more personal scale. Mr. Murphy says that events like the Columbine shooting are “Horrific, [but] the response to fix [them] is so simple. It doesn’t happen all at once, but it’s impossible to ignore small gestures.” He also says “Simple human interaction has more effect than all of the big ideas that get thrown around.”
Mr. Cournoyer agrees, saying that the challenge focuses equally on large and small-scale kindness.
Both Mr. Murphy and Mr. Cournoyer say that they see the impacts of Rachel’s message on our school already. Mr. Cournoyer says that the day after the presentation he saw a group of students go and sit with a student who was sitting alone at lunch.
Mr. Murphy says that he has talked to usually uninvolved students about how to reach out to other students and get them involved. It also seems to him that students are “More aware of each other as individuals.”
But HHS still has a lot to do. Mr. Cournoyer believes that the goal of our school should be to sustain the chain reaction beyond the meetings that will be held for those who were involved in the Rachel’s Challenge workshop. Both men stress that the project isn’t just about the group that was chosen to attend the training after the assembly. The challenge is open to anyone, and anyone who wants to get involved should, by bringing their ideas to an administrator or by carrying out their plans themselves (if they don’t need permission).
Mr. Murphy’s vision of Rachel’s challenge is that it will morph “Into a positive name associated with Holliston High School… That we make it such a part of our culture here that we make it our own.”
Hopefully we as a community can pool our ideas, change our actions, inspire each other, and ultimately make our school and our community a better place to be.