Students in Ames High School open up to each other during Challenge Day, an anti-bullying program designed to create transformation through compassion. The program is held for five days, with about 100 students participating each day.
During the six-hour program, students take part in numerous activities, such as Cross the Line. Ninth-graders cross over a line if they had been through a situation described by the presenters. The purpose of the activity is to build empathy and show students they are not alone in their experiences.
Throughout the day, students are split into small groups of four or five students, with discussions facilitated by an adult. Among the group leaders are teachers, support staff from Pupil Personnel Services and central administrators. At the end of the day, students are asked to apologize to anyone they may have hurt in the past, and to give each other compliments, hugs and high-fives.
Ms. Willman explained that Challenge Day reinforces the daily messages at Ames that emphasize kindness and respect. She hopes that students will remember this experience and reflect on how they can make positive impacts in each other’s lives.
Social Worker Kim Hession said what makes Challenge Day different than other social and emotional programs is that the staff can see the immediate impact on the students. Business teacher Christine Poggioli added that when students first arrive in the gymnasium, they are very guarded, but quickly became more comfortable as they participate in different activities. She and Ms. Hession noted that it was a big deal for the students to step out of their comfort zones and be willing to share personal stories with their classmates.
Students express their appreciation for having the opportunity to participate in Challenge Day. The Chief’s Challenge Club, which Ms. Hession advises, will continue to implement the Challenge Day curriculum throughout the year with various activities and events.