Columbine victim lives on in anti-violence message to Bethel Park students

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When the shootings occurred at Columbine High School in Colorado, Juliana Leis was a toddler.

Although she has no memory of the murder of a dozen students and a teacher in April 1999, Juliana, 16, has become quite familiar with one of the victims.

The Bethel Park High School junior is on the executive board of the local PRIDE Youth Programs group, part of a national organization that promotes a drug-free lifestyle. On Wednesday, PRIDE of Bethel Park will sponsor Rachel's Challenge, a program inspired by the Columbine tragedy.

"It makes you think about how much your words and actions can impact other people," Juliana said about Rachel's Challenge, which aims to create "a chain reaction of kindness" within communities.

Rachel Joy Scott, 17, was the first person shot at Columbine High School when two students opened fire, killing 13 and wounding 23 before killing themselves.

After Rachel's death, her father, Darrell, began to speak at schools, using writings and drawings from his daughter's diaries to illustrate the need for a kinder, more compassionate nation.

"She was actually a pretty profound thinker," said Cyndi Hogue, an adviser for PRIDE of Bethel Park, summarizing the message of Rachel's Challenge: "If you treat someone with kindness, it will come back to you in return. People truly believe that."

Two presentations are scheduled for Wednesday. An afternoon assembly will be held at Independence Middle School and a reprise for the community will be held at 6:30 p.m. in Bethel Park High School.

The program's objectives include creating "a safe learning environment for all students by re-establishing civility and delivering proactive alternatives to school violence and bullying," according to the Rachel's Challenge website.

The message relates to PRIDE's position against drug and alcohol abuse, Ms. Hogue said.

"Bullying just fits into that," she explained. "A lot of times they go hand in hand, unfortunately."

PRIDE of Bethel Park has been active since 1992, part of a larger entity that started as the Parents Resource Institute for Drug Education in 1977.

Juliana said she recalled being inspired by PRIDE presentations as an elementary student. She joined the Just Say No Club at Neil Armstrong Middle School and joined PRIDE as soon as she reached high school.

In April, she attended the 36th annual PRIDE World Drug Prevention Conference in South Bend, Ind., which featured a Rachel's Challenge presentation, as it had in 2012.

"It was such a great program, they decided to bring it back for another year," said Juliana, who subsequently led efforts to bring the program to Bethel Park.

David Muench, principal of Independence Middle School, is enthusiastic about hosting Rachel's Challenge.

"Our biggest challenge is getting these middle school-age children thinking beyond themselves," he said. "This type of program opens their eyes to how their actions affect others. The more we can highlight that, the better off they'll be."

For more information about the Rachel's Challenge events in Bethel Park: For more about Rachel's Challenge:

education - neigh_south

Harry Funk, freelance writer: First Published October 17, 2013 1:49 AM


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