Empathy, kindness on the lesson plan as students take part in Rachel's Challenge Chain Reaction Day

LOVELAND, Colo. -- Depending upon when you walked into the McKee Building at the Budweiser Events Center this week, you may have seen high school students playing with hula hoops or in the midst of serious, sometimes even tearful, conversations.

Every day, a hundred or so sophomores from Fossil Ridge High School in Fort Collins were taken out of school and instead reported to the events center in Loveland to take part in a Rachel’s Challenge Chain Reaction Day.

After a series of large and small group discussions about the importance of qualities like empathy and kindness, the students are asked to line up along a wall and take a step forward, then asked if they can answer "yes" to any of a long series of questions thrown their way.

Some are simple. 

Others are hard for them to answer.

“If you or a close family member or friend were ever the victim of violence because of your color, culture, religion or sexuality, please cross the lone.”

“If you adopted or you’ve never spoken to one of your parents, please cross the line.”

“If you come from a family where drugs and alcohol were or are a problem, please cross the line.”

The students soon learn they have more in common with some of their classmates and teachers than they ever imagined.

“Please take a look left or right and notice you are not alone,” the moderator said periodically during the exercise.

Each year at Fossil Ridge, students focus on a different activity involving Rachel’s Challenge.

Counselor Melissa Vasa says this the day that stays with them the longest, noting many of her students are able to recall what happened that day years later.

“They leave changed for the better,” she recalled. “They leave wanting to make a difference and wanting to be kinder to their peers, and building more understanding on what's going on in their everyday lives.”

Sophomore Kristen Schultz says learning that your classmates face the same challenges as you do every day takes a load off your shoulders.

“They want you to talk to people they want you to know it’s okay to talk about it,” she said.  “It's okay if you need someone to talk to whether you know them or not.”

Schultz says ultimately, she and her classmates learned the importance of creating a chain reaction of kindness.

“If you help someone, you help them to help someone else and hope that they help them more.”

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