Challenge Day: Breaking Barriers and Building Understanding

For many, gearing up for a typical high school day may include a rush to get ready in the morning, a quick check to make sure homework is done, a visit to the locker and a chat with the usual crew of friends, all before the school bell rings. In all the hustle and bustle, there is not always a chance to share a friendly, one-on-one greeting with teachers or connect with peers. On a special day known as Challenge Day, LCHS students share a different experience that allows them to take the time to get to know their teachers, connect to other peers, and discuss the challenges they face.

Challenge Day is unique program that “provides teens and adults with tools to tear down the walls of separation, and inspires participants to live, study, and work in an encouraging environment of acceptance, love, and respect (ChallengeDay.org).”

“Challenge Day is always a big challenge in itself, but it is one of the best programs we have ever given to the kids. It’s a worthy challenge.”

LCHS has hosted the program for three days each year since 2013 to allow up to 300 high school students to participate annually. The ultimate goal is to give every LCHS student an opportunity to attend Challenge Day once within his or her high school career. This meaningful  program is funded by the PTA and planned by the dedicated counselors of LCHS. This year, Counselors Rachel Zooi and Kim Lauxen, along with the PTA committee, exercised leadership in organizing the event.

Trained leaders from the Challenge Day organization conduct the daily workshops. Adult volunteers comprised mostly of LCHS staff, as well as district administrators, and retired educators, spend the entire day with students, practicing tools and activities that help each person express emotions in a healthy way. According to Mr. Brent Beaty, a social science teacher, “Challenge Day is always a big challenge in itself, but it is one of the best programs we have ever given to the kids. It’s a worthy challenge.”

On this day, all students and adult volunteers participate equally. Everyone shares; everyone listens. It’s an opportunity to find some common ground. A junior student commented, “It was awesome to see teachers and staff  there. Challenge Day is a chance to say things you wouldn’t normally. Having teachers there made it better.” Another junior continued to share, “To me, it was a way to feel comfortable talking to people I never would have before. It’s a reminder that other people are going through things that are really similar to what you're going through, especially teachers and authority figures. Students don’t think about that.”

“It gives you a completely different perspective on the people you are with every single day, and in turn,  gives you a completely different perspective on yourself."

Finding that common ground with others at school is important since students spend hours there every day, with various types of people they will interact with for years. After all, a school is a community. Sometimes, with all the activities occurring on a high school campus, in addition to outside personal experiences, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and disconnected from others. Challenge Day is an opportunity to reconnect and build that sense of community.

As one senior expressed, “It gives you a completely different perspective on the people you are with every single day, and in turn,  gives you a completely different perspective on yourself. It was eye opening for me. A lot of times, children or high school students are not treated with the same respect as adults, but we have the same problems as adults on a different scale. When building confidence is an issue, being treated as an equal is important.”

It’s also an opportunity to have some fun! LCHS guidance counselors hope this year’s participants will spread the word about that aspect for students next year. “From the start, you are immersed in an atmosphere of enthusiasm and encouragement,” said one staff volunteer, “There is a whole lot of energy filling the room, and you are meeting new people and playing games --you get to act like a kid again.”

Retired educators Mike and Nancy Leininger volunteered for the event, and Mike took a moment to convey, “My wife and I were humbled by the honesty of the participants: students and adults! Every teacher should go through this experience to help them understand what the youth of today is experiencing beyond the classroom.” When asked if he had fun, he replied, “We had a blast, we were challenged to go beyond our comfort zone and share our experiences with our future leaders.”

In order to preserve the spirit of Challenge Day throughout the year, the leaders encourage everyone to find ways to be proactive about their decisions, turning intentions into do-able, positive actions. Also, LCHS counselors follow up with participants and continue to bolster the Challenge Day organization’s “3-step formula for creating positive change: Notice, Choose, Act.”

"The ultimate goal is to give every LCHS student an opportunity to attend Challenge Day once within his or her high school career."

For students considering attending Challenge Day next year, listen to the advice from one of this year’s attendees,“Don’t go in there afraid. Remove whatever you think you know about it. Go in there with a positive attitude. They want you to have fun and be comfortable. Don’t knock it ‘till you try it.”