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Third General Session

Plea for a kindness chain

ScottThose who attended the final session of the 2018 Joint Annual Conference on Sunday morning, November 19, witnessed an incredibly moving motivational talk about the power of personal acts of kindness, delivered by the founder of Rachel’s Challenge, Darrell Scott.

Scott told his audience at the Third General Session that “a life committed to kindness can start a chain reaction” that can truly change the world, a fitting conclusion to the three-day Conference that saw attendees focus on a variety of leadership-related workshops and presentations, as well as powerful sessions on school safety and professional development.  

WilliamsAlso during the Sunday morning general session, three individuals were honored for their service to the education community. The Illinois Association of School Administrators announced the Illinois Superintendent of the Year is Gary Kelly, DuQuoin CUSD 300. Richard J. Nogal, board president of Community High School District 230 (Orland Park), was named the 2018 Thomas Lay Burroughs Award winner, an honor that is extended by the Illinois State Board of Education to the state’s top school board president each year. And Linda Wehrheim, executive assistant to the superintendent and board secretary of Winnetka SD 36, was the recipient of the tenth annual award for school district secretaries, the Holly Jack Outstanding Service Award.

The closing session of the 2018 IASB/IASA/IASBO Joint Annual Conference focused on the vision of “Rachel’s Challenge,” which is to bring a commitment to kindness into everyday action in everyone’s lives. Rachel’s Challenge is named for speaker Darrell Scott’s daughter, Rachel Scott, the first victim of the two mass murderers at Columbine High School in Colorado on April 20, 1999.  

Scott began by praising a hero of that day, Dave Sanders, the only teacher killed at Columbine, who reportedly saved dozens if not hundreds of lives by warning others. When the gunmen first started firing, killing Rachel, Sanders ran to the cafeteria and sounded the alarm. He, along with two of the school’s janitors, helped get more than 100 students out of the path of danger by herding them away from the shooters. He saved untold numbers of lives that day. By the time the gunmen arrived, most of those in the cafeteria had left thanks to Sanders.

Room Sanders was one of 13 people who died at the school. Another was Rachel Scott, who was sitting outside the school eating her lunch on the lawn when she was killed. The extraordinary teenager’s writings, including the essay “My Ethics, My Codes of Life,” captured her approach to life, her father said.

“I have this theory that if one person will go out of their way to show compassion, it will start a chain reaction of the same,” Darrell Scott said, reading from the essay.

After first sharing Rachel’s story soon after the Columbine tragedy, Darrell Scott recalled, “I began to realize the impact that her life and her writings and her diaries had on young people. Rachel’s writings are full of wisdom beyond her years.”

One sentence in particular was prophetic: “These hands belong to Rachel Joy Scott and will someday touch millions of people’s hearts.” Her words inspired Rachel’s Challenge, a program that relies on five separate challenges to students to help foster a positive culture and reduce violence in schools.

“None of our five challenges to young people begin with the word ‘don’t,” Darrell Scott said. “We prefer to say we are for living a life of kindness.”

That’s why the program fosters organizing “For” clubs in schools, to help students be for things and people, not against anything. Rachel’s Challenge, which also consists of service clubs and mentoring, uses humor to encourage simple acts of kindness and the terrible reality of what happened at Columbine to drive its points home.

The program has now been offered at roughly 15 percent of U.S. schools as well as other schools around the world. It has touched 25 million people so far, promoting a positive school climate. Rachel’s Challenge leaders claim it has reduced disciplinary problems at the schools and Darrell Scott said it has prevented an average of 150 suicides a year.

“My last challenge to you today is a challenge of action,” Darrell Scott said during the closing presentation. “It’s to go to at least three people that you’re thinking about that are important to you, and today find the time in your own way to tell them how much you appreciate them, how much you care about them and how much you love them.”

He said it’s exactly what his daughter Rachel would have done.

“Some say she didn’t get to do anything very big in her life, but she believed she could make a difference,” he said. “She challenged you to start a chain reaction of kindness and compassion.


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