Professor thinks Rachel's Challenge can change school bullying culture


by MIMI JUNG / KING 5 News

Posted on April 21, 2011 at 12:49 PM

SEATTLE – A Seattle professor is on a mission to change the culture and eliminate bullying in our schools. And he thinks a movement started in honor of Rachel Scott, the first victim of the Columbine High School massacre, can help make it happen.

It was 12 years ago Wednesday that two students at Columbine High School went on a suicide mission, seeking revenge for being teased and picked on. In the end, 12 students and a teacher were dead.

"It was like watching America starting to fall apart at the fringes," said Jeff Keuss about watching the images of Columbine on TV. "As a parent, starting to raise children, it got personal."

Keuss is a morals and ethics professor at Seattle Pacific University.

"What's the culture going to be in the school? Are kids going to trust each other, are they going to be safe?  And what are we building the kids into?"

But changing the culture means changing the way kids treat each other. Keuss says that begins with showing them someone they can strive to be.

"One of the things that's amazing about Rachel Scott as you go back and look at her biography of who she was is she was painfully average, but amazingly good."

Rachel was the first person killed at Columbine and was known for her compassion toward others, especially the new kids, the unpopular ones, students who were picked on.

After her death, her father found an essay by Rachel.

"In that message, she challenged her reader to start a chain reaction of kindness and compassion that would ripple around the world," said Darrell Scott, Rachel's father.

That essay launched Rachel's Challenge. The school program encourages kids to make a difference with acts of kindness. Keuss believes that's the message that needs to be taught and practiced in schools in order to change the culture.

"A lot of it has been don't do drugs, just say no mantras and posters on the wall and they'll spend lots of money on this to prevent certain activities, prohibitive activities. But Rachel's story gives an opportunity to live out in a positive way. Do these things, act this way," said Keuss.

Keuss helped develop curriculum for teachers who want to incorporate Rachel's Challenge into their classroom. He says once the emotion of Rachel's story wears off, students need to practice kindness and compassion and make it a part of their daily lives.