Challenge issued in T’town
BY PATRICK LEONARD
Wyoming County Press Examiner
All Tunkhannock Area Middle School students learned a simple message Thursday morning- that a single person can change the world and together they can all make the world a better place.
They heard the story of Rachel Scott, the first student killed at the Columbine (Colo.) High School shootings on April 20, 1999, which saw 13 people killed and 27 wounded.
After her death, Rachel’s family decided to spread her message of compassion to others. Shortly before she was killed, Rachel wrote a school composition entitled, “My Ethics, My Code of Life,” in which she wrote that with each good work that they do, people can start a chain reaction of kindness that can influence other people.
On Thursday, across two morning assemblies. Bill Sanders from Kalamazoo, Mich., tried to help make her life real for the 838 students who attend the middle school.
(An afternoon program was set up to facilitate local student follow up across the district, and an evening program also sought to get support from parents and the community.)
In the morning Sanders introduced film segments about Scott’s life, the horrific day at Columbine that ended it, the composition she had written about kindness, and interviews with her family and friends to tell a powerful message of compassion.
The message of finding the good in other people seemed to catch the rapt attention of the fifth and seventh graders assembled at 8:30 and the sixth and eighth graders at 10:15.
He said that one tangible response for students who hear Rachel’s Challenge is often to write down an act of kindness which they have performed on a piece of paper fashioned into a chain link and then form a paper chain with other students.
After hearing Sanders’ presentation in the morning, the Tunkhannock Area students pledged to wrap the entire school with their chain of kindness, according to guidance counselor Megan Georgia, who is helping to spearhead the program in the Middle School.
Sanders’ presentation crossed the gamut of students who comprise a typical school and noted that students at Rachel’s school who were not particularly close with her noted she touched their lives in a wonderful way with her compassionate spirit.
And he told the students, many of whom were wearing orange to show their Tiger pride, that they, too, could pass that passion on.
Sanders said the message was simple:
*always look for the best in others;
*treat others the way you wish to be treated;
*choose positive influences and friends;
*speak words of kindness, not cruelty; and
*forgive someone who has hurt you.
After the program, Sanders said he was one of about 80 people who take Rachel’s message throughout the country each year, and the story has been told to more than a million students.
“We don’t deal with bully behavior and how damaging that can be. We stress the positives of caring for other people and choosing kindness over cruelty,” he said.
“My heart breaks for the recent teen suicides in the area,” Sanders continued, referring to the four students from Luzerne County who took their own lives last week. “The tragedy is that these kids felt like they had no one they could turn to.”
Tunkhannock Area Dean of Students Steve Traver said that Sanders’ message was an important one for the students to hear, particularly in light of the recent tragedies.
“With our middle school students, I think that those incidents affected some of them more than others,” Traver noted. “Kids don’t understand the impact of the comments they make, both negatively and positively. Bill’s presentation was so great because it stressed the positive influence our students can have on each other.”
Sanders’ talk to the students stressed the importance of being yourself and not being afraid to treat others with compassion. When students choose their friends wisely, Sanders pointed out, they have the freedom to be comfortable with being themselves.
“Don’t ever be too cool to be kind,” Sanders told the students at the conclusion of his speech. “Choose positive influences. Thank you all for treating me with such respect today. That is how you should treat each other every day.”