Imagine a world where a new student can walk into school feeling accepted, safe and loved, where bullying, violence and oppression is completely diminished towards students who might not necessarily fit in. A world where not just students, but everyone can feel confident in being his/her true self. Sounds like it could be a realistic place, but it takes time, dedication and lots of work. There are many programs for anti-bullying that continue to help students and their communities rid bullying from their lives, yet only one program sticks out clearly to me; Challenge Day. Yvonne and Rich St. John Dutra, the founders of Challenge Day came up with a mission statement saying, “The Challenge Day mission is to provide youth and their communities with experiential programs that demonstrate the possibility of love and connection through the celebration of diversity, truth, and full expression (Yvonne).”
The work of Challenge Day within schools helps bullying, violence and oppression become a thing of the past through multiple life altering activities. Three times a year within the Hartland Middle School’s gym various seventh grade students and new eighth grade students run through a tunnel of adult facilitators and teen leaders who high-five them into a circle of chairs beginning their day in the Challenge Day program. I know when I was in seventh grade, running through this tunnel of my teachers, adult and high school volunteers was extremely intimidating. I had no idea what possibly could be in store for this life-changing day. There are two leaders from the Challenge Day foundation program who start everyone off with some games; in order, to break down the built up tension and anxiousness of what is going to happen next.
Dancing like no one is watching, sitting on each others laps and pretending to be on a rollercoaster, a version of musical chairs that seems to end up like a rough hip-checking hockey game, are just some of the ice-breakers that bring the aura within the gym to a comfortable level. The day goes on to become more serious as the Challenge Day leaders go below their waterline to explain a simple, yet trying question, “if you really knew me.” Everyone has their own image and through time it can become more like a mask. Picture a glacier. Only ten percent of a glacier can be seen, while ninety percent remains unseen much like a human being. The ten percent can be considered a person’s image, what they choose to show or tell people. Now going below the waterline reveals the hidden ninety percent that each and every person hides because there is constant pressure from society to be portrayed as someone else, someone better, someone who is not true.
This leads a person’s image to become their personal mask, to become fake. How can a world become bully free when everyone is trying to be someone they are not? Getting to know the real person inside of an individual could help a bully realize that everyone has their own struggle. Sticking together through hardships rather than taking it out through name-calling, violence or rumors makes the world just a little more bearable. Listening to each leader break down their personal waterline when I was in seventh grade helped me break that prior judgement of when I first saw them because I became comfortable and felt closer to them by realizing they are just like me. All kinds of emotions fill the gym after each student shares their personal story in their small groups, but just after a well-needed lunch break and a few more fun games the aura becomes serious again through an activity called, crossing the line. Crossing a line sounds simple enough, but why would it be serious? Why are there so many emotions attached to it?
The common rumor with Challenge Day is that it is just a day for crying and this activity would be the reason why. There are two lines parallel to one another taped onto the floor. The students, teen leaders and adult facilitators all gather on one side of the lines. This activity is played in silence and when a question is asked and it pertains to an individual, they would then cross to the other side of the parallel line leaving an open space between the two lines. An example of a question would be, “If you are under the age of eighteen, please cross the line.” Eventually, the questions become more in depth and tear wrenching. “Cross the line if you have been hurt physically or emotionally by one or more of your siblings. Or if you have done the same to them. What if today was the last day you saw them? What would you want to say to them?” The questions become tougher as the activity goes on, but the walls between students become broken as they realize that the people who might have bullied them or people they might have bullied have been going through the same or similar struggles.
A quote originally said by Mahatma Gandhi is used in an article by Henrik Edberg and he says, “You must be the change you want to see in the world” (Edberg). This quote is expressed throughout Challenge Day and directly relates to stopping bullying because in order for something to change a person has to change himself/herself. In conclusion, the Challenge Day program has been a life changing experience for me and many others. Bullying can be rid from all schools and surrounding communities through Challenge Day by just getting to know one another, letting someone get to know a person below their waterline and being aware that everyone has their own daily struggles.
An australian journalist for education explains, “Schools have become increasingly aware of the prevalence, seriousness and negative impacts of bullying” (Lester). With facilitators and students sticking together to make a difference, to stand up to bullying, to be the real person inside will change the school and eventually the world into an accepting, loving, oppression free place to live. I have continually tried my best to live by the three steps in Challenge Day they teach the students in the program: notice, choose and act. For example, look around and notice what is happening, create a vision for what life will look like and to have the courage and commitment it takes to make a change. Take a stand against bullying because a world free of people using superior strength to influence or intimidate someone, is just a few steps away.