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Challenge Day encourages empathy

Every October, the entire freshman class participates in Challenge Day, dedicated to promoting community and encouraging students to bond. The annual event has expanded over the past few years to cover the better part of a school week in order to encompass the rapidly growing freshman population.

Typically, Challenge Day is an emotionally moving event. Students separate into groups and have time to share their stories: difficulties, triumphs, things they have never told anyone. The day finishes off with a cross-the-line activity; if students have experienced a certain situation, they cross the line. “All of them say that they cry, so I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing,” says Dr. Rachel Richards, who teaches blended biology and environmental chemistry.

Students pledge to be more inclusive and kind individuals.

“I think my freshmen come away from challenge day knowing more of their classmates and willing to communicate more with them,” says Pamela Wimberly, longtime PE teacher. “I think it is a good use of their time because we have so many students coming from a lot of feeder schools which are not as diverse as our campus.”

Wimberly’s comment is one of the main reasons for Challenge Day’s implementation; freshmen come from schools full of students just like them. When they get to M-A, many experience, for the first time, students of different ethnic backgrounds, income level, or native language than themselves. When given a chance to share their innermost thoughts and feelings, students can see what their fellow peers have experienced and empathize more with others.

A message on the official Challenge Day website states that “Challenge Day offers immediate results.” Many- like Carrie Moore, teacher of AS I and English I- don’t notice much of a change after their students’ return after Challenge Day. “It’s a little hard to tell because I have only known them for about two months before the event. That being said, I do think that Challenge Day is a good use of students’ time.”

When mentioning topics like racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia, Moore relates back to Challenge Day “to remind students that these very real social issues affect people they know and love.”

In years past, the two-day event was easier to work around. About half of the class would be present on the first day of challenge day, and on the second day, the teacher would teach the same lesson to the other set of students. “From my perspective, I find it extremely disruptive to the schedule and my curriculum, especially with having a mix of freshman, sophomores, and juniors in Biology,” says Richards.

The rules of Challenge Day ensure that students sharing personal stories are free from judgment and shown love and support.

Kelly Todd, an English I teacher, thinks that “it’s beneficial for the kids, especially for the ones that don’t have a connection here at M-A… it shows them that there’s other people like them.” Todd also posed an interesting dilemma: “…the kids come back and are like, “You cried! I know you cried!” And I’m like, ‘guys, don’t worry about it.’ I tell them that it’s a human function. I cried when I went through, and it’s because I care about the kids.”

“I always teach freshmen, and they seem to know each other a little bit better [after Challenge Day] and know some of the kids’ names that they didn’t know before.” Todd, like many other freshmen teachers, acknowledges the problems of challenge day. However, despite its inconveniences, “it’s worth it.”

 

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