For nearly two years, Bob and Andrea Tuszynski along with Nancy Borchert worked to bring the "Rachel's Challenge" program to Crystal Lake schools.
All parents with children in the Crystal Lake school system, from elementary to high school, the Tuszynskis and Borchert saw how the anti-bullying program could benefit the community.
"We realized that we can never do too much in terms of character education for our children," Bob Tuszynski said.
Last night, Crystal Lake School District 47 hosted a free parent assembly at Hannah Beardsley Middle School to give them insight into what "Rachel's Challenge" is all about.
Students at Beardsley, Bernotas and Lundahl middle schools saw Larry Scott's presentation during regular school hours, and now it was the parents' turn to join the event. Moms, dads, even grandparents - many accompanied by their teen and pre-teen children - turned out for the program by the hundreds.
An estimated 500 people listened as Larry Scott shared how his 17-year-old neice, Rachel, left behind inspirational messages in her dairies and journals from which everyone could learn.
In her writings and in her actions, Rachel tried to spread kindness every day by reaching out to special needs students, new students and kids who were picked on at school.
"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," Rachel wrote in a school paper she titled, "My Ethics, My Code of Life" just six weeks before she died.
Rachel was the first of 13 people killed on April 20, 1999, during the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado. The first real warm day of spring, Rachel was sitting outside on the lawn having lunch with a friend, her uncle said.
Shooters Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris approached the west entrance of the school, saw the two students sitting in the grass and shot them, Larry Scott said.
Within minutes, Klebold and Harris, both seniors, were inside the school and killed another 10 students and one teacher within a few minutes- most in the school library, where Rachel's brother narrowly escaped death, as well. Larry Scott's two children - Rachel's cousins - were in the school that day, too, and ran for their lives, he said.
It was a day that horrified the Columbine community, and the nation.
But from that tragedy, Rachel's family has found the strength to move forward, inspired by the words and messages left behind by Rachel herself, a petite brunette with a big smile.
In comparing Rachel's life to that of Anne Franke, Larry Scott said both girls believed in destiny, and both thought they would die young. They also shared the unfortunate link to Adolph Hitler. Franke, as most people know, died in a Nazi concentration camp. Klebald and Harris idolized Hitler, and intentionally planned the Columbine attack for April 20 because it was his birthday, Larry Scott said.
Rachel Believed in Destiny
Although Rachel was a typical teenager, she had a passion and conviction that she would someday change the world. A video shown during Larry Scott's presentation depicts a Columbine high school teacher recounting how Rachel told her the morning of April 20 - shortly before the shooting- that she knew she would impact milions of lives one day.
Gathering all of Rachel's messages together, the Scott family created a series of student-empowering programs and strategies to help students and adults combat bullying, feelings of isolation, and despair by creating a culture of kindness and compassion, Larry Scott said.
Now that students and parents have seen the initial "Rachel's Challenge" presentation, the message goes on.
Larry Scott met with groups of 30 students from each of the middle schools after school yesterday to "train" them about events and strategies that will be implemented throughout the year.
"This is a lifestyle," Larry Scott told parents. "It doesn't stop today."
At one of the middle schools, more than 100 students signed up to participate in the training. Names were drawn to whittle the group to 30 per school, Tuszynski said.
"I think the turnout numbers just show how powerful this is," Tuszynski said.
The father of two credited District 47 Superintendent Donn Mendoza for bringing "Rachel's Challenge" to the middle school system. The parent group had pitched the idea several times to Community High School District 155, but was ultimately turned down.
"Dr. Mendoza has been terrific in getting us to this point," Tuszynski said.
More information can be found on the Rachel's Challenge webpage.