Change is in the air and in the culture at Spoto High. Around 200 high schoolers from all grade levels were selected to participate in “Challenge Day” along with teachers and community volunteers.
The California-based nonprofit organization called "Challenge Day" uses a variety of activities in the 7-hour program to help students and adults “break down the walls of separation and isolation and replace them with compassion.”
Participants engaged in interactive exercises that encouraged them to connect with one another and share deep feelings about problems with bullying, teasing, racism, violence, loneliness or other obstacles they’ve faced in life.
First-time attendees said they had heard positive feedback about the program from past participants, but weren’t really sure what to expect.
“It’s going to be nice to get to know some new people, understand some things that I probably don’t understand right now, and get to come out as a better and more complete person,” said Spoto Junior Bryce Johnson.
“This is my first time participating in Challenge Day. I’m excited to connect with my students and get to know them on an individual level,” said Spoto High School GEAR UP Counselor Sonya Eorio.
A grant from GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) helped fund the 2-day program, which can cost up to $10,000. For past participants, the emotional day was worth repeating.
“It’s easy as a teacher to forget that our students have lives that impact them and how they can learn. It’s also easy to forget that my colleagues also have lives that impact them and their ability to teach. Challenge Day is just a day where everybody comes together and you’re reminded of why you do what you do, and that everybody’s human,” said Spoto High School Graduate and English Teacher Allison Wright.
“It’s not only the students that you’re getting to meet, but also the teachers. You get to get a deeper insight into what they go through as well, not only the students,” said Spoto Senior Sol Hernandez.
Teacher and English Department Head Adam Sherman first experienced Challenge Day in 2011 in a different school district and brought it to Spoto four years ago. He and counselor Rob Kachurak are passionate about the program that promotes positive change through respect and a better understanding of one another.
“If we don’t stop to understand who people are, we never realize the potential that we have in the world. So, we can create new dreams, and new goals, and new incentives for these students by understanding who they are and what they bring to the table,” said Challenge Day Coordinator and Teacher Adam Sherman. “If we don’t really look at the parts of our lives that impact us in the negative or the sad ways, then we can never learn how to push through those items, and Challenge Day really helps us to do that,” Sherman said.
“I think that the more people that go through Challenge Day, the more empathetic a school can be, the better the school culture, and the better the learning,” said Wright.
“We pump each other up, bring confidence to each other, compliment each other. I feel there’s a lot of change at Spoto High School after Challenge Day,” said Senior Myah Palmer.
Students reflected on what they took away from Challenge Day.
“We all saw today, that jokes can go pretty far, and it hurts sometimes,” said one student.
“We’re all survivors from the things we’ve been through,” another student said.
“I was a bit of an outcast, like I didn’t matter. Being here today has made me more confident in my own self,” a student shared.
Students vowed to spread what they learned during Challenge Day to classmates to help make the school a better place.
“Challenge Day was amazing. I think it was a huge success. I feel so much better about myself. I feel very empowered and uplifted. For the longest, I felt so disconnected from others. After today and the exercises we went through, now that we have such a nice understanding of each other, and now we’re all empowered and uplifted together, I feel like we could definitely come together and do something a little bit more special,” Johnson said.
Challenge Day insists that the program “improves social and emotional health thereby reducing behavioral problems and increasing academic outcomes.”
“You don’t need Challenge Day to be the change, you are the change, so just show that. You can be the change no matter where you are,” said Hernandez.
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