EDMOND — Betsy Sweiger is taking the challenge, because she's been the new kid before.
The sixth-grader at Sequoyah Middle School sat Monday with her mother, Mollyann, on the purple bleachers in the Cougar gym.
Betsy had told her mom about Rachel's Challenge, which had been introduced to her and her classmates earlier that day, and suggested they attend the parent and community meeting.
Rachel's Challenge is an anti-bullying program based on the writings of Rachel Scott, the first person killed in the shootings at Columbine High School in 1999.
The goal is to inspire students to replace acts of violence, bullying and negativity with acts of spect, kindness and compassion.
About a week after Rachel's funeral, her parents found an essay she had written a month before her death, calling for her peers to “start a chain-reaction of kindness and compassion.”
In an hourlong presentation Monday, parents and students watched clips of Rachel's family and friends challenging others to follow that advice in their schools and communities.
Rachel, known in her high school for extending a kind hand to her classmates, wrote that the key to making her school and community a better place was by reaching out to those who were new, bullied or just having a rough day.
“I have this theory that if one person will go out of their way to show compassion then it will start a chain reaction of the same,” she had written. “People will never know how far a little kindness will go.”
Betsy said she was nervous on her first day of school, worried that she wouldn't make any friends. The number of students, more than 1,200, made the situation a bit overwhelming, especially since she was coming from a much smaller elementary school.
But she said the trick to getting to know people is to say hello.
“There were a couple people in my class who I would say hi to and we would just kind of talk and get to know each other,” she said.
“I think it was a good message in the videos we watched that you can show kindness and that people should be more aware that you can be really kind to people. I try and be nice to everybody.”
Sequoyah, Cheyenne Middle School and Westwood Elementary are the first schools in the Edmond school district to begin Rachel's Challenge. Central, Cimarron and Summit Middle schools are scheduled to start in the coming months.
Sequoyah principal Jason Galloway said he was moved when he heard the message behind Rachel's Challenge from her father, Darrell Scott.
“I'm always looking for the next thing to bring into the school and a lot of what we focus on is instruction and school improvement and academics, which is obviously very important,” Galloway said.
“But when you start to think about what is it that could have a great and lasting impact on the school, I think this was a message that our kids needed to hear and something that we needed to focus on.”
Galloway said Sequoyah students are mostly well-behaved, but there is always room for improvement.
He said reaction to the challenge was overwhelmingly positive, and students came up with several ways of spreading kindness: a welcoming committee for new students, making encouraging posters to hang in the halls and slipping kind notes into a fellow student's locker.
“Just going out and doing random acts of kindness,” he said.
“We really just want to spread that vibe beyond the school.”