Twins Madeline and Morgan Ferris weren't even born when 13 students were killed at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999.
But the Hanahan Middle School sixth-graders were so moved by a school assembly Thursday about Rachel Scott, the first student to die at Columbine, that they brought their mother and grandmother back to see the presentation Thursday night.
"I had heard about it at 'meet the teacher' night, but they came home today and wanted me to come," said their mother, Bonnie Ferris.
The school is the first in Berkeley County to become a part of "Rachel's Challenge," a national movement toward teaching students "how to start a chain reaction of kindness and compassion." The program was presented to the student body during the day and to about 200 family and community members at night.
"Of course the district has a 'no-bullying' policy, but we wanted to be proactive in teaching students how to be kind and compassionate," said school guidance counselor Dinoca Ihrig.
Last school year, a parent told the guidance department about the program and anonymously donated money to bring it to the school.
"That gave us the push to make this happen," Ihrig said.
During the program, speaker Kendall Clark showed news footage and photos from the day of the shooting, but Principal Robin Rogers said there were no complaints about it being too graphic. District officials and guidance counselors from other schools were on hand during the program, he said.
"The part about the shooting is not the message," he said. "It's just a small part of this. The program is more about her life and what she stood for and what we can do now."
Rachel left behind six journals filled with writings and drawings. In an essay for school six weeks before her death, she wrote, "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."
In 2000, her father, Darrell Scott, started "Rachel's Challenge." It has since been presented to more than 15 million people. Its message is to look for the best in others, dream big, choose positive influences, speak with kindness and start your own chain reaction.
Rogers said the program gave the students an emotional charge.
"This program has touched hearts," he said. "Every day we deal with students who, for one reason or another, are mean. When we decided to do Rachel's Challenge, we hoped this would be a kickoff to get our students to understand how hurtful words can be. After seeing the presentation today, students and teachers were telling me how much of an effect it had on them."
The school will now participate in a year-long curriculum called the Friends of Rachel (FOR) Club that encourages students to continue the chain reaction of kindness and compassion. The school has also partnered with the College of Charleston to have its peer-mentoring group lead monthly programs, and 25 students per grade in fifth through eighth grade were trained to be student leaders.
"After today, we will be doing a lot of follow-up," Ihrig said. "The students are saying things like 'I am changed forever,' and 'I want to make a difference in my world."
Madeline Ferris, 11, who is one of the sixth-grade student leaders, agreed.
"This program will change a lot at our school," she said. "The bullying will stop. I've already seen changes today."