As Berkeley High teacher Shannon Erby pointed out in her Classroom Grant application for Challenge Day, “Students can be mean. Sometimes they are intentional bullies, other times they don’t realize the impact their words and actions can have on others. Unsafe and/or contentious environments are not conducive to learning.”
Erby’s solution (or, beginning of the solution) was to bring local workshop leaders, Challenge Day, to her classroom. Challenge Day’s signature school program “helps reduce teasing, bullying, and stereotyping, teaches tools for peaceful conflict resolution and how to express emotions in a healthy way, and builds empathy and community on campus by igniting a movement of compassion and positive change.”
On February 24, all 53 ninth graders in AHA participated in Challenge Day, as well as the ninth grade teaching team, three counselors, and several parents. The daylong workshop was a success. Erby wrote in her follow-up report, “The structure of Challenge Day lends itself to students (and adults) taking the risk to be vulnerable and learning to offer unconditional support. Kids really came together as a community, and in the weeks since Challenge Day, I have noticed more authentic kindness.”
She shared a particular story of an English language learner who had recently joined AHA but struggled to make friends. After Challenge Day, the student had a supportive group of friends.
Another student had been problematic in Erby’s classroom all year. But learning more about the student’s background and home life gave her a more empathetic perspective. Erby says, “She is now doing really well in my class.”
Parent volunteers also shared positive feedback from the workshop: “It was the most effective workshop for dissolving barriers and building trust among young people and people in general that I have ever experienced. The opportunity that Challenge Day provides is exactly what is needed to help young people see beyond external appearances and realize the pain, struggles, hopes, and dreams they all share.”
Another parent offered, “I wish they had Challenge Day back when I was in high school. A profound, community-building and growth-full experience was had by all. Phenomenal! I’m deeply grateful my son had the opportunity to participate.”
Students, too, gained so much from the powerful experience. One wrote, “I promise to make sure to treat everyone with respect. I don’t know what everyone goes through and how much it hurts, so I will be kind at all times.”
Another found comfort in some of the exercises: “Yesterday I learned that I’m not alone and there are other people who have gone through similar things. I also experienced sadness when I thought back to the hurtful memories. Also I experienced joy once I figured out I am a survivor.”
Challenge Day was supported by a $2,800 Classroom Grant from the Schools Fund. You can help us keep amazing programs like Challenge Day in our schools by donating to the Schools Fund here.
*Photos provided by Challenge Day’s website. No photos were available from Berkeley High’s event.