Challenge Day Promotes Positive Change for VHS Students

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More than 200 students and 50 adults at Vineland High School participated in two day-long Challenge Day programs last week designed to promote a school environment based on understanding, acceptance, and love.
At a Challenge Day, teenage students, teachers, school counselors, parents, and members of the community are challenged to step out of their comfort zones, open their hearts, and build connections with others. Two trained Challenge Day leaders guide participants through a carefully designed series of games, activities, and trust-building exercises that creates new levels of empathy and respect.
The Challenge Day program reduces teasing and bullying, teaches tools for peaceful conflict resolution, and inspires teens and adults to work together. The program was the conclusion of a process that started last year when Dorothy Burke, an assistant principal at VHS South, attended Millville's Challenge Day.
"I approached central administration about bringing Challenge Day to the Vineland District because it is something that I passionately believe in," said Burke. "I believe in the Challenge Day vision that every child should be celebrated, appreciated, and loved every day. At the first faculty meeting in September, I mentioned that as part of our anti-bullying campaign, we would be bringing the nationally known program to the Vineland High School Campus."
Joanne Downey, a student assistance coordinator and anti-bullying specialist, worked with Burke to ensure both days were well organized and successful. Also helping out were social workers Kathleen McCabe and Aline Cornew. Security guard Jose Lugo assisted with logistics, whhile Allen Associates covered the cost for student lunches.
"It is always great to see the community reach out to us and show us their support and for that I am very grateful," said Burke.
According to information provided by the non-profit organization, for millions of young people, bullying, violence, and other forms of oppression are a part of a typical day at school. Many students are afraid to walk down the halls for fear of being teased or humiliated. Others feel so alone and frightened that they cannot even pay attention in their classes.
"Imagine a school where every child feels safe, loved, and celebrated," the group says on its website. "This is the vision behind Challenge Day, an award-winning day-long program for middle and high school students."
Motivated by a vision that love and connection are possible in schools, Rich and Yvonne Dutra-St. John created the Challenge Day program in Martinez, California in 1987. Through their years of professional experience with teens and families, Rich and Yvonne recognized that teasing, bullying, and other forms of social oppression are symptoms of a greater underlying problem: separation, isolation, and loneliness. Rich and Yvonne designed the Challenge Day program to build connection and forgiveness between young people, and to inspire youth to become positive forces of change in their schools and communities.
"For the most part I felt like it gave people a brand new perspective," said one male student. "You know, everybody has their struggles, that's really kind of a saying, but today we got to really see that, that people go through the same struggles as us.  It gave us a real perspective that we all have the power to help these people get better, help mediate, and help bring each other up. A lot of times in this world we tend to bring each other down, but we have the potential to bring each other up, and it's something we can achieve and make prosper. Hopefully this turns into something good."
Formed as a nonprofit organization in 2001, Challenge Day has reached hundreds of thousands of young people around the world. To learn more about the work of Challenge Day, visit www.challengeday.org.