CLOVIS — Students, parents and educators gathered at the Gattis Middle School gymnasium recently to learn how one of the victims of a mass school shooting in Colorado 17 years ago is continuing to inject positive change into the lives of others.
Rachel Joy Scott was the first of 13 killed – 12 students and one teacher – in the Columbine High School shooting in 1999. Her father, Darrell Scott, established Rachel’s Challenge, a nonprofit organization to echo his daughter’s message of motivating, educating and encouraging human compassion in young people.
Former Texas Tech University quarterback and Hereford native Cody Hodges served as the assembly presenter.
“When I was in college I heard Rachel’s dad speak,” said Hodges, who has been a Rachel’s Challenge presenter since 2007. “And when I heard her story for the very first time, it had a huge impact on my life. I had the opportunity to play football for Texas Tech and when I was playing football that was all I kind of really cared about.
“But when I heard Rachel’s story, it kind of put everything in perspective for me, because I realized football would eventually come to an end. And who I was as a person would mean more than any pass that I ever threw. We know when things are wrong, but sometimes we don’t care enough to do something to change it. And Rachel cared enough to do something.”
In addition to the one-hour evening session Oct. 27 in which Hodges showed video clips of Scott’s family members, classmates and others sharing how the 17-year-old left an indelible mark, he conducted assemblies with the school’s sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders.
“It was very impactful and the kids were very excited,” said Gattis Middle School Principal Gloria Mendoza-Christensen. “We’re very appreciative of the parental support and look forward to accepting Rachel’s Challenge.”
Hodges shared insight into how Scott adhered to the following practices:
• Eliminate prejudice/look for the best in others
• Establish a chain reaction of kindness
• Dream big/don’t place limitations on yourself
• Set goals and keep a journal
• Be great/don’t settle for being average
“A few weeks after her funeral, Rachel’s dad and oldest sister were sharing memories about Rachel, when her dad noticed there were two pieces of paper kind of shoved under the box spring of her mattress,” Hodges said. “Her dad reached down and pulled out this essay Rachel had written in her English class. And in this essay Rachel challenges the reader to start a chain reaction of kindness and compassion. When Rachel died she left her family six diaries and a lot of the things we know about Rachel comes from her writings.”
Hodges said part of Scott’s character was reaching out to people, particularly special needs individuals, because she felt they were overlooked, but also new students still trying to make friends and students who were being bullied.
Hodges said a Friends of Rachel club has been formed at Gattis Middle School in keeping with the organization’s goal of changing the culture inside of every school Rachel’s Challenge visits for the better. He said 100 students have pledged to find ways to maintain positive chain reactions and will meet on a regular basis.