Silver lining of shootings

first_imgBy Shelly Leachman STAFF WRITER A teacher’s frantic 911 call. A SWAT team surrounding a high school. Kids fleeing their campus, screaming, gunfire ringing out inside. It’s been more than eight years since the massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado, but the images and sounds of the tragedy are forever disturbing. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREChargers go winless in AFC West with season-ending loss in Kansas CityEventually, though, some positive messages emerged from that horrific day: the importance of tolerance and compassion. And those lessons have spawned an inspiring school program that just arrived in Torrance. Named for Columbine victim Rachel Scott, whose many journals and other writings form the basis of the program, Rachel’s Challenge aims to curb school violence by promoting kindness. Just weeks before she was the first student killed on campus April 20, 1999, Rachel wrote in an essay, “I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion, then they will start a chain reaction of the same. People will never know how far a little kindness will go.” She added that her theory “may seem like a fantasy that can never be reached,” but, she urged, “test them for yourself.” Rachel was among 12 students and a teacher killed by fellow students Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris that day. Another 24 were wounded. The killers had been bullied by other kids and left behind evidence that they targeted anyone who slighted them at the school. Rachel’s call to action hit Torrance High School on Tuesday, when Rachel’s Challenge was made to students and adults alike in four separate sessions with Scott family friend Andy McClure. Now the largest school- assembly program in the country, Rachel’s Challenge was started by the Scott family about a year after her death. The primary message? The tiniest gestures can have the biggest impact. “You don’t need to cure a disease. You don’t need to cross the Grand Canyon for someone else,” McClure told the students. “You just need to do the little things.” “It was very touching,” ninth-grader Michele Coughlin, 15, said later of the somber presentation, which mixed news footage of the Columbine shootings and Rachel Scott’s funeral with audio of desperate 911 calls from that day and voice-over readings from Rachel’s diaries. “I think it’s a great idea,” she added of the challenge. “I think more people should do it, and maybe we wouldn’t have such a big problem with everybody judging other people.” Choosing positive influences. Keeping a journal of one’s own dreams and goals. Practicing small acts of kindness. Telling people that they are loved. Embracing differences instead of judging them. Those are the five tenets of Rachel’s Challenge and, by Tuesday afternoon, several hundred students had signed a massive banner, pledging to try to observe them all. Stepping back after inking her own name, ninth-grader Kiana Sagun, 13, said what resonated most with her was the idea of tolerance. “You shouldn’t judge people by looking at them,” she said. “It’s better to love than to hate people. You should have a positive attitude.” Hoping to spread that attitude across the school district, the Torrance Council of PTAs is working on expanding the program into every Torrance Unified high school by early next year. “Columbine is no different than Torrance ? and that kind of tragedy could happen anywhere,” said council President Tish Carney, who saw a Rachel’s Challenge presentation at a summer convention and was determined to bring it home. “Kids need to remember, to stop thinking that anyone is of less value than they are. No one is of less value than anyone.” Words to live by, said McClure, especially for Rachel Scott, who was a unifying figure on her campus – and has become a nationwide symbol since her death. “She believed in compassion and kindness, and that’s why we’re doing this,” he explained following the first of his four Torrance sessions Tuesday. “We’re into changing cultures, not just the climate. The whole issue is to effect change.” [email protected] local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img