Twenty years ago, Rachel Scott, a 17-year-old Columbine High School student, described in an essay how one act of compassion can “start a chain reaction.”

Six weeks later, she was the first of 13 victims shot and killed at the Colorado high school.

Now, her words have traveled 1,500 miles across the country to start a chain reaction in Lancaster County.

“I want to think of the power you have,” DeeDee Cooper told students at the McCaskey High School campus Tuesday. “The power you have to make a huge difference in the life of someone else with a small, simple act.”

Cooper is a presenter for Rachel’s Challenge, a bullying and violence prevention program founded by Rachel’s father, Darrell Scott, and based on her essays and diary entries.

McCaskey students are the latest to take on Rachel’s Challenge. At least a dozen county schools have introduced the program or have plans to introduce it soon.

The program offers an emotional presentation highlighting Rachel’s life story, help in creating a FOR — Friends of Rachel — club focused on creating a more positive school climate, and training materials.

Call to action

The basic middle-high school package, which the School District of Lancaster purchased, costs $3,600. The district split the cost with the Lancaster-Lebanon Intermediate Unit 13, district spokeswoman Kelly Burkholder said.

Other packages, which can cost up to $6,500, include teacher kits, on-demand professional development and school climate assessments.

Solanco High School hosted a Rachel’s Challenge assembly in December. Assistant Principal Rick Esche said in a phone interview Tuesday that many students took the presentation as a call to action.

Students in the school’s FOR club, he said, have brainstormed ways to spread compassion throughout the school, whether it’s handing out roses with kind messages attached to them, spreading awareness for special needs, distributing birthday cards or creating “kindness napkins” for the cafeteria.

Changing a life with a smile

To close her presentation, Cooper told McCaskey students to close their eyes and raise their hands if they agreed to tell their family and friends how much they’re loved. Almost every student raised his or her hand.

“One day, if they aren’t around, you’ll be so glad you took a minute of your time just to tell them how you felt and how much they meant to you,” Cooper said.

Afterward, several students moved by the presentation approached Cooper on stage and hugged her.

McCaskey senior Carissa Crowley told LNP that the presentation really spoke to her about how “a word or a smile can really change someone’s life.”

Senior Analise Diaz said it made a “huge impact” on her, and she hopes other students feel the same.

While students can’t control what goes on at home, she said, “We can control what happens here. We can control how we treat people.”