Students challenged to change behaviors

Posted: Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Students at Juneau-Douglas High School are beginning to look at one another differently, and with more respect.

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By the end of today, about 300 students will have participated in Challenge Day — a program brought into the school to help students realize the issues they’re dealing with are likely the same as another classmate’s. The program focuses on creating a caring, respectful environment and encourages students to see the harm they cause and the good they can do.

This process involves a lot of in-depth reflective activities that had students grabbing boxes of tissues while their eyes were opened.

Challenge Day facilitators Angela Aguilar and Khayree Shaheed shared their experiences with students, how things were challenging for them and how they overcame it.

One of the activities students and adult facilitators did was one where people crossed a taped line on the floor. They crossed the line for things like if they’ve ever been teased about their weight, if they know someone who has attempted or completed suicide, if they’ve ever struggled with depression, if anyone in their family has had issues with alcohol or substance abuse and many other of life’s complications. Students saw their peers cross that line with them, and staff as well.

At the end of the day, students got a chance to take the microphone and share what they felt about their experience, apologize to those they’d hurt or thank those who have been there for them.

Several said the program was a real eye-opener for them and it changed the way they think about other people and how they will interact with others.

One said it changes how he will treat his mom, grandmother, siblings and teachers and said he will make sure to do his school work so he can have a good career and a good life. He apologized to a teacher in the room and hugged her.

All while students were sharing, others in the room raised their hands up in support.

When students apologized to specific people, those people came up to the front of the room and hugged, coming to terms with issues now past.

Another student shared her father had left and said hateful things to her when he left the home. She hopes to reconnect with him and rebuild that relationship. Another student said hers had been gone for eight years and is just now reconnecting and offered support to her peer.

“This is for real,” Shaheed said. “Because when you walk outside those doors, all this stuff is going to be waiting for us. Be the change. Take a look around, because this is your team. This is the group of people that’s going to make it happen.”

Shaheed asked the students to think about how they would carry forward the atmosphere and respect achieved in that day’s session forward throughout the school and on.

Phillip Fenumiai, a sophomore, signed up because his mother noticed the mailer sent home to families and because he wanted the experience.

“I didn’t expect all these things to happen,” he said. “We all have the same problems we go through in life, just sharing all the emotions with one another, seeing how people are just like you. They’re not different.”

Fenumiai said it changes how he will act.

“I’m definitely going to do things differently,” he said. “I regret some of the stuff I did before. I never used to be cool with some of these guys here. Seeing them now, they’re not so different. I can get along with them a lot better now. Just like Khayree and Angela said, we just expressed four minutes of our lives to random strangers, it feels like I’ve known them forever.”

Holly Lennon teaches geometry at JDHS and was an adult facilitator on Tuesday.

“I was hoping I would get better insight to the problems my students have,” she said. “I got more than I thought I was going to get.”

She felt students really opened up in the six-to-seven-hour-long session, including talking about sensitive subjects like family deaths, current and past drug problems, suicidal issues and many other issues.

“It amazes me they can even do geometry with all the problems they have,” Lennon said. “I really think that these kids are fired up right now and I hope that we adults can keep them fired up so they continue to love each other, show compassion and respect for each other like they did in this room today. “There are pretty amazing kids and adults that were in this room today. We’ve all gone through a lot, you wouldn’t know it by the way kids act in school or even the way the other adults act in school.”

Challenge Day will continue with a new set of students at JDHS today, and Yaakoosge Daakahidi Alternative High School Students will get the program on Thursday.

Thunder Mountain High School had three days of the program at the start of the school year, and after their experience students, staff and parents from the other two high schools were clamoring for the same opportunity to improve culture and respect.

Community donations paid for a portion of the event, while the program fee itself was paid by the district.

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at

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