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Students challenged to look at behaviors, connect

Posted: Thursday, September 02, 2010

High school can be rough with drama, cliques, racism, violence and teasing. Students were challenged this week to think about why those things can occur and were challenged to stop them.

Challenge Day was offered three days this week for the 266 Thunder Mountain students who chose to participate. More than 70 adult facilitators, including staff and community members, also participated. The day-long program began with adults dancing and cheering students as they came in the door.

The rules of the program were: be inclusive, no put downs or teasing, compliments and love encouraged, listen with your ears and heart, be open minded, drop the waterline and get real and be the change you wish to see in the world.

The first question participants were asked to think about was, "what is it like to be you?"

"What is it like walking out of the house you walk out of every day?" asked Challenge Day leader Vicki Abadesco. "What's it like to be you going to school? Just notice that."

"We're going to challenge you to get real," she said. "We'll be talking about things we don't normally get a chance to talk about. The reasons why we might have drama with our family and our friends, violence, racism, bullying, teasing. Not just talking about them, but doing something about them."

One of the biggest messages of the day was equal respect.

"People do not get treated with equal respect," Abadesco said. "In this room, we want you to experience respect how you may have never felt it or experienced it before."

Change, Abadesco and Gordon said, comes in three steps. First, people have to notice what's going on.

"What is actually happening around us?" Abadesco asked. "Do people in your school get treated equally? Do you like the way people get treated? We walk around and pretend not to see."

The next step is to choose, they said.

"Choose in our heart and in our mind," she said. "Do we want to reach out and step in when someone is getting teased?"

That is followed by the third step, to act.

"Once we choose to act, we have to have the courage to do those really tough things," she said. "That's when we see the changes occur right before our very eyes."

The challengers asked students to step out of their comfort zones. Gordon had a small white box taped off on the floor. As an active dancer, he said there are two moves he can pull off inside the box.

Gordon stepped out of the box.

"Now I can show people the 'hey' I figured out," he said while showing off a move. "I can learn more that I didn't even know about. There's a risk to this, right? There might be some people in this room who don't think my dance moves are as incredible as I do."

But maybe, Gordon said, there will be someone who sees his moves and wants to show him a new one.

That message reflected on the day. By stepping out of their comfort zones, students see what they can do to change not only their school environment, but also their lives.

Emphasis was also placed on establishing a foundation of support. Once respect and support were established, participants and adults gathered in small group circles to share a very personal experience by finishing the statement "If you really knew me, you would know..."

The reflection was very difficult for students as many tears were shed and tissue boxes emptied fast. After each spoke, hugs of support were exchanged and the next person got their turn.

In another activity, a piece of tape was stretched into a line across the floor. Everyone started on one side, and as statements, such as "if anyone in your family has an addiction," or "if you've ever felt alone," were read, people stepped across the line if it applied to them.

Participants were to remain silent during the activity, but were to show support for those who hadn't had those experiences. Those who shared those experiences with others were encouraged to hug or hold hands to offer support.

Students were encouraged to use what they'd experienced to shape how they interact with others.

The program was brought to the school by a state grant. Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich said it was brought because they want to create a supportive environment in the high school.

"There are groups of kids that begin to separate," he said. "We're trying to build a culture of respect in our schools. With the students and adults involved, there's a renewed commitment there to treat one another with respect. I think that's a marvelous beginning. It is a beginning, now our job is to follow through."

Thunder Mountain counselor Kathy McCasland also said the reason Challenge Day was brought in is because they want students to be nicer to each other.

• Contact Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com.



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