JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Greenport schools hosted the national anti-bullying program “Rachel’s Challenge” last night in the auditorium.
When Greenport High School principal Leonard Skuggevik handed out tissues during an anti-bullying presentation last Thursday evening, a group of secondary students took him up on his offer without question.
They were about to watch the national anti-bullying program “Rachel’s Challenge,” which they’d seen earlier in the day during a morning assembly.
Seventh-grader Ashley Payne, who sat in the front row with a group of her friends, described the presentation as “life-changing.”
“We’ve been talking about it all day,” Ashley said. “It was really inspiring.”
She and other Greenport students have pledged to surround themselves with positive role models and become kinder to their peers — especially special needs, new and picked-on students — in an effort to deter bullying.
“Rachel’s Challenge” is based on the writings of 17-year-old Rachel Scott, the first student killed during the 1999 Columbine High School shooting massacre in Colorado. She would have turned 31 this year.
Program presenter Todd Lauderdale wove together media coverage of the worst school shooting in the country’s history and videos of Rachel’s family describing her life and the importance of her message about compassion. It also included footage of her funeral, with students signing her white casket.
About 30 people listened as Mr. Lauderdale introduced a video segment in which Rachel’s brother, Craig, recalled the scene in the Columbine cafeteria when two troubled students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, blasted their way into the room.
Craig said he and his friends, Matthew Kechter and Isaiah Shoels, were hiding under a table when the killers approached them and began to taunt Isaiah — one of the few black students enrolled at the school.
The last thing Isaiah heard before he was killed were racial slurs, Craig said, and his final words right before he was shot at close range were, “I want to see my mom.” After they killed Isaiah, Craig said, the gunmen then fatally shot Matthew.
A total of 15 people died during the massacre, including 12 students, a teacher and both gunmen, who committed suicide following the nearly 22-minute rampage.
Shortly before her death, Rachel wrote a two-page essay for her fifth-period English class that described the importance of kindness. In it, she challenges the reader to look for the best in others. Rachel’s life message also challenges people to dream big, choose positive influences, speak with kindness and start their own “chain reaction.”
“I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion, then it will start a chain reaction of the same,” she wrote. “People will never know how far a little kindness can go.”
Mr. Lauderdale told stories during his presentation about how Rachel reached out to help others, including cheering up a new kid at school who sat alone during lunch and standing up for a disabled student who had been bullied so much that he wanted to commit suicide. Rachel’s act of kindness showed the special needs student that life is worth living, Mr. Lauderdale said.
Mr. Skuggevik said at the start of the presentation that, as a high school principal, he became very passionate about “Rachel’s Challenge” after seeing it about 10 years ago.
But Mr. Skuggevik’s profession isn’t his only connection to the anti-bullying efforts.
Ever since the high school shooting tragedy nearly 13 years ago, Mr. Skuggevik said he can’t help but wonder what would have happened if he had accepted a job offer he received from Columbine after he graduated from college. He and his wife ultimately decided to remain in New York to raise a family.
“Could I have helped or would I have been someone who got hurt? I’ll never know and that has always kind of bothered me,” he told the audience before the presentation. “I’m so pleased were are able to bring program to the school … It grabbed me by the heartstrings.”
Mr. Skuggevik said the presentation has engaged students to become more respectful to others and kinder to their fellow students. Since they’ve also taken more of an interest in volunteer work, Mr. Skuggevik invited audience members to contact the school with their community project ideas.
“They want to help,” he said. “If I can’t keep them busy then they will lose interest.”
PTA president Laura Koch said her group held a chinese auction in October to help fund the program and donated the entire $3,000 proceeds toward its cost.
Ms. Koch said the PTA decided to bring “Rachel’s Challenge” to the school because some parents have expressed concern about bullying. “It was well worth it,” she said afterward.
For more information about the program, visit rachelschallenge.org. Contact Mr. Skuggevik at 631-477-1950 for more information about student community service projects.