Rachel’s Challenge Comes to Laurel County

This edition of the Family Engagement Blog comes from Robin Keith, Family Engagement Specialist in Laurel County and Pulaski County.

On April 20th, 1999 a school shooting occurred at Columbine High School, in Columbine, Colorado.  Two senior students killed 12 peers and one teacher and injured 21 others. After their attack, they turned their guns on themselves. Even though this tragedy brought about much pain and suffering, good has come from it in the form of a program impacting over 20 million students across the U.S.

Rachel Joy Scott, a 17-year-old senior at Columbine, was the first victim. Rachel was known for her kindness: reaching out to those who were perceived as “different,” those who were being picked on, and those who were new to the school.  Shortly before Rachel’s death, she wrote in her journal, “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. People will never know how far a little kindness can go.”

After her death, Rachel’s family developed Rachel’s Challenge. Rachel’s Challenge includes a series of student empowering, educator motivating programs and strategies called the Awaken the Learner Five-step School Improvement Process that equips students and adults to create and sustain safe, caring, and supportive learning environments essential for academic achievement.

In October, Rachel’s Challenge staff continued her legacy at both North and South Laurel High School and at a community event. All students—freshmen through seniors—heard Rachel’s message. Dee Dee Cooper, the presenter, focused on the impact Rachel had on those she came in contact with and how we could also start our own “chain reactions of kindness” right now.  At the conclusion of the assembly, Dee Dee presented a banner. She explained that it would be available in the cafeteria during lunch, and if the students accepted Rachel’s Challenge then they could sign the banner. But just signing the banner wouldn’t be enough—they had to commit themselves to making a difference.

Rachel’s Challenge is:

  • Look for the best in others
  • Dream big
  • Choose positive influences
  • Speak with kindness
  • Start your own chain reaction

The banner was hung in the school as a reminder to the students of their commitment to creating a chain reaction of kindness.

The same evening, a community event was held at First Baptist Church.  Parents, students, and community members came together to hear about Rachel’s Challenge. Parents and community members were asked to make a personal pledge to create a chain reaction of kindness just as the students had earlier that day.

The schools have encouraged Rachel’s Challenge in many ways. They have offered additional programs, developed lessons, and created a “pay if forward” club at one school.

The community’s participation in Rachel’s Challenge reminds me of a quotation from Leo “Dr. Love” Buscaglia, a motivational speaker whose lectures aired on PBS: “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”

Robin Keith is the family engagement specialist for Pulaski and Laurel counties. A graduate for Berea College with a certification in elementary education, Robin decided to work with the Partners for Education because of the connection the organization has with her dreams of making change within her community.

Family Engagement Success

This edition of the Family Engagement Blog comes from Judy Murray, Family Engagement Specialist in Clay County. 

I love working with my Clay County families.  Mr. and Mrs. B. and great-grandson are one of those families who, after attending one program, keep coming back.  Mrs. B. is a wonderful lady.  She is sweet, kind and soft spoken.   Just imagine what you think a great-grandmother in rural Kentucky would look like.  She has long gray hair in a bun, wears long dresses and very sturdy shoes. Mrs. B. and her great-grandson participated in the “FAST” program (Families and Schools Together).  FAST is an eight-week program that builds relationships within families and the relationship between families and schools.  Each night ends with a “lottery” prize winner and that winner must bring dessert the next week.  Mrs. B.’s great-grandson, a 3rd grader, loved the program.  He was always so excited during the program.  He was polite, took care of his grandmother and followed the rules.  He simply couldn’t wait to win the lottery.

They attended the first six sessions, but on the 7th night when they didn’t show up I was devastated. The grandson had not won the lottery and I knew how much he wanted to.  I made a phone call to them the next day.  Mrs. B. had fallen and broken her ankle.  I asked about her husband and if it would be possible for him to bring his great grandson.  She said Mr. B. thought the program was for women and children and had refused to come.

On the 8th night I was so hoping for this family to make it. Everyone arrived and we began the program with our meal.  Five minutes later Mr. and Mrs. B. (in wheelchair) and great-grandson arrived. Guess who won the lottery that night. You bet! The B. family.

Since then Great-grandmother and grandfather have joined our “Grandparents Raising Grand Children Support Group. “ They love just having time to talk with other people who have this common bond.

Before coming to live with them, their great-grandson had bounced from one foster home to another.  They say now he will always be secure with them.   Not long ago the great-grandson said, “Grandpa, someday this will be all mine.”  His grandpa replied “Yes, son, it will.”  This couple has invested their time and energy into their great-grandchild and his future already looks brighter.

Judy Murray joined the Berea College Promise Neighborhood in 2012 as a Family Engagement Specialist. After graduating from Eastern Kentucky University with a social work degree, she went on to obtain a degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in learning and behavioral disorders. She was hired in the Clay County Public School District as a social worker and later as a special education teacher. Her passion is working with students and their families. Along with her teaching duties, she also sponsored the BETA Club at the high school level, coached cheerleaders, and was involved in the PTA and the 4-H Club. Judy resides in Clay County, KY with her husband of 35 years, David. They have 5 adopted children: Steve and Emma from Korea, Mailee and Kylee from China, and John from Bolivia. They also have two handsome grandchildren: Connor and Rylan.