BUCKHANNON — Upshur County students shattered the number of acts of kindness they completed in past years during the 2016-2017 school year, they learned Tuesday during a special event at Buckhannon-Upshur High School.
Tanya Zickefoose, counselor at Buckhannon Academy Elementary School, delivered the good news during the ninth annual Rachel’s Challenge field day event at B-UHS Tuesday morning. Since the first day of school in August 2016, elementary, middle and high school students completed 54,449 acts of kindness, Zickefoose told a sea of cheering students clad in brightly colored T-shirts.
“We, too, can be people that go out of our way to be kind because it’s the right thing to do,” Zickefoose said at the opening ceremonies of Rachel’s Challenge in the high school gymnasium. “We have to try more than the average person to do the right thing, and we have done that – we have broken our record with 54,449 acts of kindness.”
Named for the late Rachel Joy Scott, a student who was famously the first to die in the April 20, 1999 Columbine High School massacre, the purpose of Rachel’s Challenge is to spread Scott’s legacy. Scott believed one small act of kindness could start a chain reaction. In the aftermath of the massacre – widely acknowledged as the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history — many students told Scott’s parents about how her simple acts of kindness made huge, positive differences in their lives, even preventing one student from dying by suicide. In Scott’s final school essay prior to her death at the hands of perpetrators Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, she wrote, “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.”
To represent their respective acts of kindness, students from each school crafted kindness chains out of construction paper, which lay piled high on the high school gymnasium floor. In addition to learning that they’d gone above and beyond in showing compassion for their peers as well as people part of outside organizations, students enjoyed entertainment provided by the B-UHS drum line and Cpl. Rocky Hebb at the beginning of Tuesday’s field day. Hebb, the prevention resource officer at the high school, performed several songs with his guitar in tow, including Jackie DeShannon’s “Put a Little Love in Your Heart,” Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” (modified to “Sweet Home West Virginia”) and John Denver’s classic, “Country Roads.”
Students were also the recipients of congratulatory words from assistant superintendent Jack Reger and organizer Cathy McCauley, counselor at Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School.
Reger said he’s had the opportunity to meet with Scott’s father, Darrell Scott.
Reviewing the acts of kindness that led to Tuesday’s celebration, Reger said, “You guys are everything that’s right with public education.”
McCauley noted that a total of 1,200 students participated in Rachel’s Challenge throughout the 2016-2017 school year, including Kindness Clubs at the elementary schools and Friends of Rachel clubs at B-UMS and B-UHS. She emphasized the importance of working together to create a climate of kindness in Upshur County schools.
“A lot of work goes into this,” McCauley said. “The thing about this event is that we couldn’t pull it off if we didn’t all work together.”
Following the assembly in the B-UHS gymnasium, students ventured down to the Freal “Red” Crites Memorial Stadium to join hands and walk a lap around the high school track. Then, they sprinted off to partake in a slew of running and field events set up in the stadium, including an obstacle course, bean bag toss, soccer kicks and football toss.
McCauley said she thinks Rachel’s Challenge has been effective in encouraging students to show compassion for one another.
“Acts of kindness are performed from the first day of school through the present, and that can include acts they do for others or those they see someone else do for others,” McCauley said. “It can be a very small thing to a very big thing and everything in between. It definitely makes kindness more prevalent and sets up an atmosphere that is acceptable which reduces and replaces the mean behaviors. Bullying as a mean behavior is still a problem; we have a ways to go, but it has reduced the number of incidents because of a discovering of common ground. Kindness becomes what we promote, model and act.”
Rachel’s five challenges are looking for the best in others, choosing positive influences, daring to dream and set big goals, being kind to everyone and starting a chain reaction of kindness, McCauley added.
Kindness chain count totals are as follows: Buckhannon Academy Elementary School with 24,129 links, Hodgesville Elementary School with 3,067 links, French Creek Elementary School with 1,443 links, Rock Cave Elementary School with 1,537 links, Washington District Elementary School with 5,833 links, Union Elementary School with 5,800 links, Tennerton Elementary School with 9,767 links and Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School with 2,873 links.
According to the Rachel’s Challenge website, 1.5 million people become involved in Rachel’s Challenge programs annually, reaching more than 1,200 schools and businesses. In addition, bullying and violence decrease, while community service and acts of kindness rise. For more information about Rachel’s Challenge, visit www.rachelschallenge.org.