Some of Michelle Ross's seventh-grade students at Niles' were so moved by a "Rachel's Challenge" presentation Tuesday that they sat in hushed silence, cried and made very thoughtful, reflective comments afterward.
"I thought it had a profound impact on them," said Ross of the presentation, which centers on the out-of-the-ordinary kindness that Rachel Scott, a 17-year-old, showed to others before she was murdered when two students went on a killing spree at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999.
Scott's family has created a program and non-profit organization, Rachel's Challenge. They make presentations at schools around the country and ask students to accept the challenge, which involves showing compassion, tolerance and other qualities.
Culver, a K-8 school in Niles Elementary District 71, got the idea from Niles' in Park Ridge-Niles School District 64, according to Culver Principal Peggy Maniscalco. Emerson students saw the presentation and pledged to take Rachel's Challenge in October.
Culver wants to expand Rachel's Challenge to the community, said Amy Kruppe, District 71 superintendent.
Back in December, Kruppe and Maniscalco began meeting with people from the , the , the and other community members to see how they could all work together on Rachel's Challenge.
Many of them came and watched Tuesday's presentations with students, along with people from the , the and members.
"We're really excited because we want to reach out to the community," Maniscalco said. "I think the kids saw this was something bigger than Culver."
On Tuesday, a presenter from the Rachel's Challenge foundation made one presentation to kindergarten through fifth grade students, which did not include any mention of the Columbine violence, and another presentation to sixth through eighth graders, which did address what happened at the high school.
"My sixth to eighth graders were crying as they left the presentation today — even the boys," Maniscalco said after the school day ended.
As she was speaking, an eighth grade boy greeted her and said, as if on cue, "Is it too late to join Rachel's Challenge?"
"No, it's never too late," Maniscalco responded.
Groups of students brainstormed Tuesday, suggesting ideas for how they could bring Rachel's Challenge to Niles. One suggestions was to welcome new students. Another would be based on the children's book, "Have You Filled A Bucket Today?", which Maniscalco said is about filling people's buckets with kindness and compassion.
"In the spring, we want to have kids walk in the community and hand out to people pieces of paper which say 'you are a wonderful person--pay it forward,'" Maniscalco added.
A group of students baked 500 cupcakes and will sell them at school and donate the proceeds to help a food pantry.
The school's Friends of Rachel committee will meet Feb. 1 to consider other activities.
Maniscalco said the school will keep the Rachel's Challenge spirit fresh in students' minds throughout the school year with positive recitations after they say the Pledge of Allegiance each day, short video clips with inspirational messages and tying ribbons with positive thoughts on students' lockers.
"The most important piece of this is continuing to fuel the positive message," she stressed.
Ross said her students received a booklet and they were tearing out coupons from it every time they did something nice for someone. They would write down the kind act they did for the person, hand it to them and ask them to pay it forward.