VARDEN – The Western Wayne School District recently held a rally to celebrate the success of Rachel's Challenge within the district.

Rachel's Challenge is a series of “student empowering programs and strategies that equip students and adults to combat bullying and allay feelings of isolation and despair by creating a culture of kindness and compassion,” according to

It was founded by Darrell Scott and his wife, Sandy, after their daughter Rachel was killed in the 1999 Columbine High School shooting.

She was the first victim.

One of the biggest messages being relayed comes from an entry in Rachel's journal. It reads:

“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's Challenge was implemented into the Western Wayne, Wayne Highlands, Wallenpaupack and Forest City School Districts last fall.

“The program was initiated districtwide at the beginning of the school year,” said Superintendent Clay LaCoe. “We held a rally to celebrate all the good work the students, staff, administration and faculty did all year long for Rachel's Challenge.”

He added the entire student body came together at the high school to celebrate Rachel.

Random acts of kindness

Each school in the district made chains throughout the school year for random acts of kindness. Every link is a different act of kindness.

“One of the big parts we did [at the rally] was link all of the chains that were built throughout the year,” LaCoe stated. “A big message from Rachel's Challenge is the random acts of kindness.”

The random acts of kindness weren't just from students. They also included the staff and faculty.

“We were able to form a ring around the entire football field [with all of the chains],” LaCoe said.

He added middle school students talked to the student body abut how Rachel's Challenge affected the school and themselves.

“It's been very positive,” LaCoe stated. “They talked about how Rachel's Challenge affected them in terms of looking at a positive environment with people helping each other out when things get difficult.”

Throughout the rally, the high school band played and paraphernalia were given out.

“It was a great morning,” he said.

Continuing efforts

LaCoe said between the fall, winter and spring there was a consistent effort throughout the entire school community to keep Rachel's Challenge at the forefront.

“Throughout the course of the year I saw the chains grow and saw the acts of kindness being updated all the time,” he said. “I think it's a really good thing. Our challenge now moving forward is to keep it going and continuing to honor Rachel and her challenge to us.”

LaCoe added it will be a point of focus for the district going into the next school year and beyond.

“We will maintain the acts of kindness and the Friends of Rachel clubs in the middle and high schools,” he stated. “Those are two of the big things we are looking at to maintain what was started.”

LaCoe also said the feedback has been very positive on every level.

“Its been a really good thing for us and our students,” he said. “Everyone in the district is involved.”

Wildcat pride

During the rally the district formally unveiled the new wildcat mascot named Westie. Elementary students were given a group of names and picked Westie from the list.

“That was something that was really well received by the student body,” LaCoe said.

He said many of the elementary students have never been on the high school campus before and got to see the facility.

“They got to be part of the whole school community and not just their own elementary school,” he said. “It was a positive experience for them.”

LaCoe added that moving forward not just with the school community, but the community at large, they will see a lot more work being done by the district for school spirit and school pride.

“We have an internal committee set up and we are working on different ideas to help build a sense of pride,” LaCoe said. “It's been well-received by the community so far.

“I want to thank the committee, faculty, students and the administration for taking the initiative to develop that. It's a really positive thing for Western Wayne and I look forward to seeing that grow.”

The district now has a mantra called the Wildcat Way: Looking at success and nothing less.