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.”