Templeton Middle School eighth graders had quite a learning experience this past week as they took part in Challenge Day. With staff, community members and their peers with them they took part in this experiential program that demonstrated the possibility of love and connection through the celebration of diversity, truth and full expression.
Students, staff and community members were challenged to step outside their comfort zones, and to learn to listen to and appreciate the challenges, victories and struggles that we all face. Through big group activities and small family group discussions participants, some for the first time, shared from their heart what life for them is really like. With a variety of opportunities to listen, to speak, to play and to learn about each other, students and faculty “experienced” a program designed to teach appreciation for differences and to learn the importance of expressing love, appreciation and empathy.
“Challenge Day truly changed myself and others mindsets. It helped us to understand and realize that no one is alone, and everyone has issues that they have to deal with and work through. It made me realize that no matter what I say, it can truly impact people in a deep way that others and I did not realize. Challenge Day gave me connections to people that I never thought I would have. It taught me that it is ok to open up and be vulnerable. I will truly never forget Challenge Day, and all that it has done for myself and others”, said eighth grader Emma Kirschenstein.
Eighth grader Luke Cherry shared, “I thought Challenge Day was good. It showed off everyone’s vulnerability and everyone was truly themselves.
Melissa Johnson, Templeton Recreation Department Supervisor, said, “Challenge Day was definitely not what I expected, but it was absolutely incredible. To be a witness to the moment our kids came to a greater understanding about the world and how we all fit into it was truly an honor. To watch them learn and grow through the experience, gain tools for how to cope with the difficulties in life we are all sure to face, and to see them fully understand how powerful compassion can be was amazing. It was an emotional day for all, and I truly believe this was a valuable experience for not only the kids, but for the adults volunteering as well.”
Tala Ashton, TMS eighth grader said, “I thought it was very eye opening and a very important experience because it gave everyone a new look at others. It made us all realize everyone goes through a lot sometimes and we have to be careful how we judge someone if we don’t know what they’re going through.”
Science teacher Scott Inman said, “It was a very powerful experience and somewhat of a roller coaster of emotions for all the kids and adults. Overall it helped people to recognize parts of themselves that needed to be expressed and challenged people to share more of the things which are burdens in their life with those people around them. It was amazing to see the level of openness when confronted in this manner. And the willingness of students and adults to be more transparent. There were numerous playful activities mixed in with many move around activities and then the very thoughtful silent months. It was wonderfully orchestrated by the 2 leaders and everyone I believe went home somewhat exhausted and reflective.”
THE CHALLENGE DAY STORY
After years working in teen crisis, prevention, and intervention, Challenge Day Founders Rich and Yvonne Dutra-St. John understood that substance abuse, eating disorders, bullying, truancy, violence, and even suicide were symptoms of the underlying problems of separation, isolation, and loneliness. They drew upon their commitment as parents of four young children and their combined professional experience to create the Challenge Day program. Rich and Yvonne’s purpose was simply to make sure that their young children—and youth everywhere—would not experience the painful isolation and emotional trauma they had faced in school. They formulated a dream to break down the walls of separation, isolation, and loneliness that young people experience and instead join them together in love. With the support of two courageous educators, they held their first Challenge Day in Livermore, California in 1987. The week before the Challenge Day, a huge fight broke out on campus. Many of the participants were students involved in that fight. At the end of the first day, students were apologizing and hugging. A ripple of compassion and hope transcended the emotions and attitudes that divided them. Rich and Yvonne were humbled and awed and knew this would be their life’s work. Their vision is now “that every child lives in a world where they feel safe, loved and celebrated”.
Challenge Day is a memorable experiential program that has reached more than 1.5 million youth and adults since 1987. The day-long experience strengthens emotional safety and social relationships, positively influences educational achievement, builds cross cultural connections, and reduces conflict and bullying.
Challenge Day has taken place in more than 2,200 schools throughout 48 U.S. states, in 10 countries including much of Canada, The Netherlands, Belgium, and several others. The program has reached more than 1.5 million kids and adults on the ground in schools and communities, and millions more through legendary televised programs. Challenge Day has been featured twice on Oprah, in the 2010 Tom Brokaw documentary called Bridging the Divide, and in the 12-episode MTV series If You Really Knew Me in 2010. The Dutch documentary, Over de Streep (Cross the Line) aired for five seasons.
TMS is extremely grateful for everyone of the students, staff members, parents/guardians, and community leaders who volunteered to help make Challenge Day an overwhelming success at TMS.
To learn more about Challenge Day visit their organization at challengeday.org.