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Challenge Day in Puyallup Reminds Students to Practice Empathy, Acceptance

The Challenge Day Program teaches students to recognize shared struggles and accept differences in others.

Being a high school student in today’s world is tough, and it’s not just the academics.

Earlier this month, a national program called Challenge Day was introduced to Puyallup’s high schools, thanks to the Puyallup Rotary. During the day-long event, students and adult volunteers “crossed the line” and shared difficult personal experiences, made new friends and chipped away at the barriers that typically cause bullying—seeing one as “the other,” and not the same.

“We’re taught not to express how we feel, and share feelings or give hugs. Students don’t feel like they have the space to do that at school,” said Katie Healey, Challenge Day coordinator, during a presentation at the Puyallup Rotary on Oct. 17. “Challenge Day is an opportunity to see how we connect to each other, and how to become better listeners. It helps us understand that we all deal with suffering.”

About 300 students in grades 10-12 across Puyallup, Rogers and Emerald Ridge high schools, plus 30 to 40 adult volunteers, participated in the program. The students were broken up from their cliques and played icebreakers to get to know one another. Each student was given two minutes to share whatever he or she wanted in a small group setting, said Healey. They were also given the chance at a microphone—to apologize, talk about change or whatever is on their mind in front of the bigger group.

In the most powerful moment of the day, students and adult volunteers would “cross the line” together and silently acknowledge shared problems—whether it be bullying, drugs and alcohol, problems at home or experiences with death and illness.

“I learned so much through this program, and it gave me such a different perspective into our students’ lives,” said Jim St. George, Puyallup Rotarian and coordinator at Rogers High School. “The day was really life changing for me too, and I feel more open with myself and others as a result.”

The Puyallup Rotary found the program so successful, the group hopes to bring it back next year and share with junior high students, too.

It’s important that the message goes beyond the day and stays a school philosophy, said Healey. It’s up to each school how they keep the Challenge Day message alive, but students are encouraged to continue to meet after the event. After each Challenge Day, students volunteer to sign a poster that reflects their pledge to share positivity with others for the rest of their time in Puyallup’s halls.

“Puyallup was one of the most inspiring places I’ve been,” said Healey. “I do attribute that to the support of the community here.”

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Learn more about the Puyallup Rotary by visiting the organization's website and check out Challenge Day at http://challengeday.org/

Laurie Miller October 30, 2012 at 03:15 AM
As one of the adult participants in the Challenge Day, held at Rogers High School on October 16th, I was amazed by the courage and bravery of each student as they "crossed the line" and shared their very private stories. We learned together, that while the pain of being bullied or abused may never go away, each experience can help to mold each into stronger, more postive and well-adjusted adults. The "cross the line" portion of this day long program was the most profound. Each time a question was read...."Cross the line if you have or know of someone who has been bullied in school," my heart broke at the number of students who crossed that line. More than half the students found their way to the opposite side of the room on more than one occasion. One parent and fellow Rotarian said it surprised hiim how many times he found himself crossing that line. He also proudly noted that while he crossed the line numerous times, his son (who was also part of this day) crossed the line half as many . He felt this was due to the efforts being made to address the challenges being faced by students in today's world. Thank you Rogers High School for allowing me back to my alma mater giving me the opportunity to support these amazing students in this Challenge Day experience. Their faces and stories will be forever etched in my memory. More importantly, I know they now have the support system at Rogers to reach out to and be there for other students in their times of need.

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