Mohonasen middle and high school students recently took the “challenge” to break down barriers and get to know each other better.
About 200 students in grades seven through 11 participated in Challenge Day over three days, Tuesday through Thursday. The mission of the curriculum is to celebrate diversity, truth and full expression, according to the website of the Challenge Day nonprofit organization.
Mohonasen High School Assistant Principal Makensie Bullinger said she heard about the program a few years ago while watching an MTV special with the theme of “If you only knew me.”
When Mohonasen received its Carol M. White Physical Education Program PEP grant in 2011 for health and wellness programs, it was an opportunity to bring the roughly $9,000 program to the district.
Social worker Diane Blinn said the day began with facilitators from the Challenge Day program helping to get the faculty pumped up so they could convey their enthusiasm to the students.
“Kids and adults were naturally a little bit anxious because we hadn’t done anything like this before and they didn’t know what they were walking into,” she said.
The morning was spent on fun, silly icebreaker games like bouncing a beach ball around, “allowing yourself to have fun together and to laugh and to feel safe and to know our neighbors in the room,” Blinn said of the games.
But as the day progressed, Blinn said, the activities got a little more personal.
In one exercise, called “Crossing the Line,” the facilitator called out different examples of racism and prejudice and students and teachers stepped over the line if it had applied to them. The activity was done in complete silence, with people making a hand signal for “love” as they crossed, Blinn said.
“It gives them a chance to see that you’re in this together,” she said.
The facilitators were upbeat and spoke in a language that the students could relate to and shared their own stories, according to Bullinger.
She said one of the best parts of the day was when the students were interacting with new people instead of just gravitating toward their usual social group. It was pushing them out of their comfort zone, she said.
“If we just give people a chance, we’re going to find we’re more similar to each other than we realize,” she said.
Students applied to participate in the program and were selected because they hold leadership positions in student organizations. School officials hope that these students will serve as ambassadors and spread what they learned in the program to others.
Blinn said some students told her it was one of the best experiences they had in school and said they were sorry if they had judged anyone and were going to make it a point to change.
“That’s so powerful to hear young people say that to each other,” she said.