Central Catholic takes up Rachel's Challenge

It was on a Tuesday morning that two teenage boys stormed Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., armed with shotguns, a rifle and dozens of bombs. They killed 12 students and a teacher in one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history.

So it will be on Tuesdays that groups of students at Central Catholic High School in Modesto will meet to talk about quelling school violence and bullying in their own hallways.

The students signed up to participate in "Rachel's Challenge," a program named after the first victim of the Columbine High School shooting, 17-year-old Rachel Scott. On Wednesday, a friend of Rachel's family, Lilly Pona, was at Central Catholic to show students surveillance video taken April 20, 1999, from inside Columbine High and news footage after the attack. Pona's presentation was interspersed with Rachel's essays and poems.

Shortly before Rachel's death, she wrote an essay for school that read: "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."

Her father, Darrell Scott, started the nonprofit organization that sends friends and family to schools around the country to talk about Rachel's life and her message to create a kinder, more compassionate atmosphere at school. More than two years after Rachel's death, Scott said he found his daughter's hands traced on the back of an old dresser, with the words: "These hands belong to Rachel Joy Scott and will someday touch millions of people's hearts."

"I remember seeing (Columbine) when I was little, but I understand it so much better now," said senior Christine Overby, as she signed her name on a poster in the quad accepting Rachel's Challenge. "If that happened, I'd just be traumatized, but people were able to overcome that. I'll just smile a lot more at people, say 'hi' and welcome people who are more antisocial."

Administrator Cathi Padula said new students are given student "ambassadors" to help them when they first transfer. But at a small school of less than 450 students, new students sometimes feel like they stand out.

"I had a new student tell me, 'Lunches are too long,' because when you don't know anyone, lunch is an eternity," Padula said.

Rachel was killed as she sat on the grass outside school, eating lunch with a friend. Her younger brother, Craig, 15 at the time, was crouched under a table in the library, where most of the Columbine carnage occurred.

"We just got to relive what happened to Rachel," sophomore Chelsea King said. "She impacted the lives of so many people without even knowing it. It's just about doing little things that actually help people. I do think it can stick."

Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at mbalassone@modbee.com or 578-2337.