Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Challenge Day in Tahoe

March Tahoe Mt. News

By Kathryn Reed

“Be the change.” It sounds simple, but it’s not easy.
Lessons learned in an unconventional way can be the most powerful. Just ask anyone who has gone through Challenge Day.
Tears and tissue were the norm.
Hugs. Apologies. Promises. Tolerance. Understanding.
It was an emotional couple days. For South Tahoe Middle School students it was Feb. 25, for South Tahoe and Mt. Tallac high schools it was Feb. 26.
On that Tuesday, 81 students and 25 adult volunteers met at Al Tahoe Elementary. It was hard to find a dry eye – and that was a good thing.
At the end of the day the adults gathered to decompress a bit. The students will be contacted by a school counselor for debriefing.
One adult mentioned how paying just the smallest amount of attention to any kid makes a difference. And that as adults we need to listen more.
And listen is what they did for the better part of the day. They weren’t there to offer advice. In fact, the two facilitators – Berenice and Sean – repeatedly said, “No one needs fixing because no one is broken.”
Challenge Day has been around for 20 years. The Bay Area nonprofit puts on sessions throughout the world – with more than 150 each month just in the States.
“At the high school we did an open invitation to the entire student body including Mt. Tallac. I know that some teachers will encourage students to go as well,” said STHS teacher Julia Russell, who organized the 9-12 event. Friday Nigh Live students assisted.
Middle school students are picked by teachers. This was ninth Challenge Day for the middle school since 2002. Teachers Holly Greenough, now at STHS, and Larry Lambdin got the ball rolling. Lambdin is the still the coordinator. The high school has had a Challenge Day each year since 2003.
A mix of kids attends – not just at-risk students. In fact, in the suggestion box of how to improve Challenge Day, one adult wrote it should be for the entire student body.
Walking in at 8:30 a.m. students posture a bit, make some jokes, stick by their friends. By 2:20 p.m. a group of Hispanic kids apologize in front of the room to a white girl for things they had said to her. They hugged. They promised things would change.
A girl cried as she made amends to her mom. Siblings were brought closer together.
Respect and understanding were found between people who before had only looked upon the other with contempt.
Silence fell upon the group as an adult talked about life growing up with an alcoholic father who beat his wife and all of his children.
Crossing the blue line showed how similar people are, it broke down stereotypes, preconceived ideas and showed people they are not alone in their experiences or feelings. Berenice would ask a question like – Do you know someone who has been affected by cigarette smoking? If so, you walked across the line. After nearly every scenario she made a few comments. To this one she mentioned how the tobacco companies don’t want people to realize how devastating cigarettes are and the damage they do to families.
A lot of questions had to do about discrimination. Some about violence. Some about various abuses.
The look of surprise was evident in students’ eyes as the adults crossed the line. Surprise when friends did. Surprise when classmates did.
The lesson was about oppression and how most days we wake up straddling both sides – we are oppressed and we are the oppressor.
The message was “be the change.” Don’t do it. Don’t allow it to happen.
The international sign for “I love you” (thumb, pinky and index fingers held up) were the only “words” that could be used to show support.
Students broke into groups with adults. Everyone had to finish the sentence: If you really knew me, you would know (fill in the blank). Sexual abuse, a sibling in jail, abandonment from a parent – those are just some of the issues these young people are dealing with.
So many feel isolated – that what they are going through is unique to them. The presenters shared their stories. It resonated.
Talk of emotional balloons – where we store our angst was visual and impacting. Eventually that balloon will pop if we don’t let things out. Talking is good. Listening is good. Breaking out of comfort zones is necessary.
It showed everyone that individually each person has the power to change – to change how they treat others and how they are treated.
For more information, go to www.challengeday.org.

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