Hundreds of students and staff from both the Fort Dodge Community School District and St. Edmond Catholic School gathered at Dodger Stadium Tuesday for Rachel's Challenge Day, a celebration of the acts of kindness done throughout the school year.
In 2013, both the FDCSD and St. Edmond adopted Rachel's Challenge, a nationwide effort advocating kindness based on the writings of Rachel Joy Scott, the first victim of the Columbine High School shooting.
A multicolored paper chain of kindness, nearly 3,500 long, circled the stadium's field two and a half times over. Each link in the chain represented an act of kindness performed by an elementary or middle school student.
Concluding Rachel’s Challenge Day, the thousands of students formed a human chain of kindness. Center of this chain, between two cheer squad members, are Butler Elementary students Ariah Ross, left, Adriana Lopez, and Monwella Stoeckel.
"We're here to celebrate each of you and all the kind things you've done this year," said Jennifer Lane, FDCSD director of communications. "Rachel said, you never know how far a little kindness can go. While this may be true, we believe you have begun to realize the impact that kindness can have in your life and the lives of others."
She added, "When we work together, showing kindness, compassion and respect, anything is possible."
Mayor Matt Bemrich, after having the hundreds of students shout as loud as they could to "wake up" the city, declared May 18 to 24 to be Rachel's Challenge Week in Fort Dodge.
"I urge all citizens to offer their support as we continue to be the answer and to look for the best in others," Bemrich said.
The students participated in cooperative activities like creating a stadium-wide "rainstorm" by snapping, clapping and stomping in sequence, and "Rachel Says," a game like Simon Says, but with commands such as laughing out loud, waving to a friend and complimenting your neighbor.
Students from each district's elementary, middle and high schools spoke to the crowd about what kindness means to them.
"Kindness helps me make friends and succeed in life," Brett Thompson, a fourth-grader at Feelhaver Elementary said.
The day's cheer squad, with cheerleaders from both St. Edmond and FDCSD, released dozens of balloons in the sky. On one side was a message of kindness, and with it an address for each school building and grade level present.
"Our hope is that the person who receives our kind message will respond, and we'll be able to see how far our kindness can go," Lane said.
Concluding the event, all of the students and staff formed a human chain of kindness, linking together across the field and in the stands.
"Kindness links us together," Lane said. "When we treat each other we kindness, we form a positive link with others around us. We look to our world, community and schools and we need to treat each other with kindness and respect. We're going to start a chain reaction of kindness today."
Doug Van Zyl, FDCSD superintendent, challenge everyone in the stadium.
"Take a look around this whole stadium. What if everyone sitting here today decided that they were going to be the one?" he asked. "And by being the one, they made a conscious effort and decision to make sure they were teaching others were kindness."
He added, "The opportunity is here. And it's up to you to decide how you want to respond."