ESCANABA - This week, 300 students had an opportunity to "Be the Change" they want to see in their schools through the nationally renowned program Challenge Day. I myself had the rewarding experience to participate in the program as an adult volunteer and have decided to share my own perspective on the day-long event.
Challenge Day at Escanaba featured two very outgoing and motivational leaders who came to the school from the San Francisco area to lead students in grades 7-12 as well as adults, teachers, staff, and other volunteers who chose to participate. Each day, 100 students and 25 adults participate in Challenge Day.
The overall mission of the program is "to provide youth and their communities with experiential workshops and programs that demonstrate the possibility of love and connection through the celebration of diversity, truth and full expression," according to the Challenge Day website.
Photo courtesy of Darci Griebel
Students flash the “love” sign during Challenge Day Wednesday. Escanaba Junior and Senior High School students took part in the program designed to increase understanding between students.
My overall impression of the program? It was a fun and incredibly powerful, but also emotional, time for students and gave them a chance to open up to one another and really see and hear things they never knew about their peers. It's a day filled with love and support from peers and adults alike, and perhaps most importantly, it's a chance to give a voice to those who often feel voiceless.
Challenge Day started off with all 25 adult participants forming a tunnel inside the school's new multi-purpose room. As the students entered, we tried to be as upbeat and positive as possible, with smiles and high-fives all around. Watching the students enter the gym, some looked nervous and had the "What did I get myself into?" look on their faces. Others were geared up and excited to see what the day had in store for them. Personally, I felt a little of both emotions, but by the end of the day I really felt great about myself and what I could accomplish.
During the day, we all participated in many fun icebreaker type activities, which forced all of us to come out of our shells a little bit and feel more comfortable and open in this new setting.
As the day progressed, one of the most profound activities was called "If You Really Knew Me," where adult participants were grouped with three or four other students and would have two minutes to share whatever they wanted to share about themselves - their passions, their joys, their hopes, their fears, and their feelings.
After the two Challenge Day leaders NeEddra and Schan talked to the entire group about what we would know "if we really knew them," some were brought to tears from the emotional stories they shared. I was personally surprised and touched by how much students were willing to open up - all because they knew this was a safe haven for them to express themselves and not keep whatever they felt bottled up inside.
Challenge Day also introduced us to an activity called "Cross the Line," where we were given a certain scenario, and if it applied to us, we would cross the line and face the others. The categories ranged from whether we were under age 18 to whether we or someone we knew: felt alone, was battling an addiction, felt bullied or teased, etc. It was really hard to take in all the emotions that filled the room, but the activity allowed participants to see that they truly are not alone and that others face similar problems or hurdles in their lives every day. Although students may not feel like they are part of a certain group or clique, it gave them the chance to say, "Wow, I never knew that this person was dealing with the same struggles or problems I had."
Near the end of the event, students had a chance to make amends or apologize to others they may have hurt or picked on in the past, or to even show their appreciation and respect they have for their closest friends or others who might not have known they felt that way about them. They then talked about how they plan to treat others differently in the future or how they can "Be the Change" in their school. It was truly a beautiful and touching moment. I think it's safe to say students and adults felt that a huge weight had been lifted from their shoulders as they got to share intimate things that maybe only their closest friends knew, or perhaps, no one at all. I felt a terrific energy and such a positive outcome from those who participated. Most students, upon leaving, truly believed they could change things for the better to create a more inclusive, loving, accepting, and positive environment for all. After all, that's what Challenge Day is all about.
The timing of the three-day event was the perfect segue into October, as the Substance Abuse and Violence Education (SAVE) Council of Delta County reminds everyone that October is Anti-Bullying Month.
For more information on Challenge Day, visit www.challengeday.org.