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By Molly King
Tuesday through Thursday a total of 300 students in groups of 100 students per day from each school, Liberty, Discovery, and Bob Jones, attended Madison’s second annual Challenge Day at CrossPointe Church in Madison.
“Challenge Day is a remarkable program that really does initiate positive change in a school’s climate,” said Dennis James, Student Services Coordinator.
Challenge Day is a non-profit organization that provides powerful one-day programs that demonstrate the possibility of love and connection through the celebration of diversity, truth and full expression to schools with students in grades 7-12.
The vision of Challenge day is that every child lives in a world where they feel safe, loved, and celebrated.
“We hear so much today about bullying in schools. A good many of the bullying programs and policies in place across the nation are more reactive; they focus on what to do when someone bullies another child,” James said. “Challenge Day is proactive. It gets to the cause of these problems and helps to prevent them from occurring. Students learn how remarkable they are as individuals, and they learn to appreciate the differences among their peers. Instead of isolating students or forming cliques, they become much more inclusive and accepting.
“It also teaches them that if they want change in their lives or in their school, then they need to take action. We shouldn’t be waiting around for someone else to make things better. We have the ability to ‘Be the Change’ we want to see.”
Dr. Brian Clayton, the principal at Liberty, shared, “Challenge Day gives students both the inspiration and the tools to step up and do what is right, which can be hard at this age. I think the fact that Liberty’s former principal, Sally Bruer, came back as a volunteer with this year’s program shows what a powerful and successful event this is. She believes in and has seen how the program changes students’ lives and the school environment.”
Ninth grade Discovery student Hunter Scoggins testified that Challenge Day, “taught me to have a better outlook on people and not judge them when I see them, but to meet them and talk to them first before I automatically think they are weird or something.
“They might have something going on in their lives that is very tragic. They may also be smiling and laughing when you are joking on them, but then they could go home and cry all day and maybe even later on down the road they might even commit suicide.
“I wish everyone could attend Challenge Day and learn why it is important to stop joking on people and calling them names. I was most surprised to learn I was not alone in the things I was going through. I didn’t know there were so many other people going through the same things I am. ”
According to Jacquelyn Flowers, Discovery Instructional Coach, as a result of Challenge Day and to keep the benefits of the program continuing throughout the year, Discovery Middle School formed a “Be the Change Team.”
Flowers explained, “It is all about students stepping up and being nice. It is about them saying, ‘We are not going to call people names. We are all going to get along.’ We have to remember and understand that we are all humans, and we all have a background; there are things going on in our students’ lives beyond academics and these things affect what happens at school and how students learn and behave. When we understand each other, treat each other nicer, and communicate better with each other, these things make our school a better place, and in turn students learn better.”
Even parents learned from the program, as explained by Discovery parent and Challenge Day volunteer Sandra Brooks. “I found Challenge Day to be an emotional, eye opening, life changing day.As a parent, I learned that some kids, my child’s age, are going through things that kids shouldn’t ever have to go through, and they learned that they aren’t going through these things alone. Apologies were made by people that didn’t understand what other people were going through and promises were made that things would change.”
Discovery parent Amanda Kay agreed, “It was inspiring to see the youth relate to one another as human beings with similar feelings, fears, hopes, anxieties and dreams. They came together, many of them for the first time, as part of a real group, a team, a support system. The love, respect, and understanding, for their peers, gained in one day is phenomenal and the idea of it spreading is world changing!”