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Spreading kindness: Public has opportunity to see Rachel's Challenge today

Sixth-graders at Bemidji Middle School listen to Dave Gamache (not pictured) speak about Rachel Scott, the first person killed at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999. Her acts of kindness, coupled with the contents of her six diaries, have become the foundation for Rachel's Project. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

Students at Bemidji Middle School were challenged Wednesday to take better care of others and to encourage acts of kindness.

This was the message Rachel Scott, the first person killed in the Columbine High School shooting tragedy on April 20, 1999, referred to in a school essay she wrote, said Dave Gamache, who brought the Rachel's Challenge program to the middle school.

Rachel's Challenge, a program that combines video and audio footage of Rachel's life and the Columbine tragedy, is geared to motivate students to treat others with respect and kindness.

The public is invited to attend the program for free at 6 p.m. today in the Bemidji High School auditorium.

This afternoon, 30 students from the middle school, 40 from the high school and 10 students each from Blackduck and Kelliher high schools will attend a special training session at the high school on how to promote kindness within their schools.

"Rachel had a homework assignment she did a few weeks before she died," Gamache told middle school students. "She talked about this theory she had that if you go out of your way to show kindness to someone it will start a chain reaction."

Five years ago, Gamache said he was invited by Rachel's family to join the team of Rachel's Challenge presenters.

"Craig, (Rachel's brother), said to me, 'Dave, I need you to challenge every single person in this room to get rid of any prejudice or hatred they have against others that are different from them," he said. "That's why I'm here."

Gamache said the Rachel's Challenge program has had a positive impact on students and staff across the nation. He said seven school shootings have been prevented because of the program; students who had previous intentions of harming others have been inspired to come forward to staff.

"I'm here to fight for Rachel," Gamache said. "I'm here to fight for those two bullies that killed the 13 people and then took their lives. They were bullied and teased in middle school."

Gamache challenged students to see the best in people and to remove any prejudice or hatred they may have against others who are different from them.

He also encouraged students to choose wisely the books they read, movies they watch, music they listen to, friends they hang out with and kinds of video games they play.

"The kind of person you are today is because of the kinds of books, movies and video games you're involved with today," he said. "If they're positive, you'll be positive. If they're negative it won't take much to set you off."

Bemidji Middle School Principal Drew Hildenbrand said the program was "spot-on."

"It was the right maturity level for kids," he said. "It brought a positive message that really pulled at the heart strings and will likely be remembered by students.

Rachel's Challenge was brought to the middle school as part of Kindness Week, a campaign that is now in its 18th year in Bemidji.

Warren Larson, director of public relations for Sanford Health of Northern Minnesota, the sponsor of the Kindness Week campaign, said promoting kindness in communities starts with schools.

"We knew if we had students who focused on treating others with kindness, dignity and respect, it would make our schools and community a safer place for everyone to live and to learn," he said.

As coordinator, Larson's job is to develop a theme, logo and put together a materials package for schools. Schools have the choice of when and how they want to promote Kindness Week.

This year's Kindness Week theme is "Kindbook," a spin-off of the popular social networking site, Facebook.

Larson said students need to be aware their use language or photos online could upset or offend others. Also, he added, students are being reminded of the dangers of texting and driving.

"It's always nice to have Rachel's Challenge come here because it reinforces the value and why it's so important to take on these values," Larson said.

For details about Rachel's Challenge, visit