‘Everybody wants to make a difference’

Cierra Scott and Kayley Colburn brainstorm with other students during Rachel's Challenge workshop.

Cierra Scott and Kayley Colburn brainstorm with other students during Rachel’s Challenge workshop.

Lincoln Middle School 8th-graders Cierra Scott and Kayley Colburn are inspired to make their school a better place for all students.

“It’s so cool how everybody wants to make a difference,” said Kayley after a special workshop held March 5 as part of a daylong visit to the school from Rachel’s Challenge, a national non-profit organization that helps schools and communities “create safe, connected school environments.”

Rachel’s Challenge is built around the life story and writings of 17-year-old Rachel Scott, a young woman who was the first student killed at the Columbine High School shooting in 1999. Rachel’s philosophy was to start a “chain-reaction” of kindness and compassion in her school and community. In her diary she wrote: “. . . people will never know how far a little kindness can go.” The overall aim is to encourage everyone to act toward others with respect and kindness, to realize the power of creating a chain-reaction that increasingly replaces meanness, violence, and bullying in our society.

The presentation was supported by a grant from the La Crosse Public Education Foundation. About 500 students from three middle schools attended a morning presentation and 100 received special training in a workshop. About 100 community members attended an encore evening presentation at Lincoln.

For Cierra, the day was a surprise because she expected just another routine school assembly. “It really touched me.”

Cierra lost her brother in 2014, as he was shot and killed in another community. “It was 9 days before my birthday,” she said.

After the training workshop with Rachel’s Challenge presenter Keyona Williams, Cierra said simply: “I think I could change things around.”

Added Kayley: “We all face hurdles — in school and in life. … You have to stick up for people. Like Rachel, sometimes you have to put up your fists and fight. Whatever gets the job done.”

Students at the workshop brainstormed ideas for ways they could take up Rachel’s Challenge and “create an atmosphere of kindness” in each La Crosse middle school.

Related news coverage:

La Crosse students learn about Rachel’s Challenge • WKBT • March 5, 2015

Middle schoolers pledge themselves to Rachel’s Challenge • La Crosse Tribune • March 6, 2015

Rick Blasing column: Presentation shows us meaning of compassion • La Crosse Tribune • March 1, 2015