News Feature

Deer Isle
Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, September 21, 2023
Rachel’s Challenge speaker comes to CSD 13
Powerful message touches students and teachers

Chain of kindness

After the nonprofit Rachel’s Challenge presentation, students created a “chain of kindness.” The links in the chain are kind messages, written to one another. School nurse Christine Saunders said the hope is to have the chain stretch to every classroom. Pictured is the chain in the Deer Isle-Stonington High School hallway.

Photo courtesy of Deer Isle-Stonington Schools

by Will Robinson

A speaker from the nonprofit Rachel’s Challenge gave a series of talks about the power of kindness at the Reach Performing Arts Center on September 12 and 13. The speaker, Neil McIntyre, held assemblies with all Deer Isle-Stonington students. Christine Saunders, school nurse and event organizer, thought the students “responded really well” to McIntyre’s message.

Rachel’s Challenge is an organization founded by the parents of Rachel Joy Scott, the first victim of the 1999 Columbine school shootings in Colorado. Their mission, according to a media fact sheet provided by Saunders, is “to equip and inspire individuals to replace acts of violence, bullying, and negativity with acts of respect, kindness, and compassion.”

McIntyre’s presentation varied based on the grade level, but his challenge to DIS students was always the same—be kind to one another.

High school principal Rebecca Gratz says the message had a profound effect on everyone who attended.

“It was a really powerful experience for our teachers and our students both,” she said. “A lot of our students want to start carrying forward the message of kindness.”

Saunders said the lecture, containing scenes from Rachel Scott’s life, her philosophy of spreading kindness and her tragic death, opened up an emotional side to students that teachers don’t often get to see.

After the assembly, students were allowed an open mic to share their life experiences.

“The kids got to see that the people they walk the halls with have been through their own hurdles, their own challenges,” she said. “They got to see a deeper side to one another.”

After the event, each student signed a banner that now sits in the DISES hallway, saying, “I accept Rachel’s Challenge.” They also started a “chain of kindness,” little paper messages that are stapled together and hung in the hallway. Saunders said many of the teachers were “really moved” by the response from the students after McIntyre left.

The student talks were followed up by a similar talk for parents, which Saunders said had a small turnout. Despite this, she feels the event was a “complete success” for both schools.

The cost of the event, which Saunders put at about $7,000, was completely covered by a grant from the Island Health and Wellness Foundation.