For three straight years students in Tempe Union High School District have had the opportunity to experience Challenge Day
, a powerful one-day social and emotional learning program.
Challenge Day has taken place in more than 2200 schools in the U.S. and ten other countries, going beyond traditional anti-bullying efforts to build empathy and connections among students while addressing common community issues. Students are immersed in activities designed to help them see that people are more alike than they are different.
One of the most impactful portions of the Challenge Day program is an activity called Cross the Line.
Challenge Day has been made possible through TUHSD partnerships with the City of Tempe Diversity Office, Tempe Police Department, and Tempe City Council. Also instrumental in the program's success are the more than 200 adult volunteers who participate in the event – they are teachers and staff from the schools and District Office, TUHSD Governing Board Members, parents, members of the business community, police officers and many other City of Tempe employees.
Over a two-week period in October 2016, nearly 900 students on Tempe Union's seven high school campuses experienced Challenge Day. Students who participated in previous years asked that more students be able to be involved, so each school expanded its Challenge Day to Challenge Week, creating a series of activities to spread kindness and make students and staff feel engaged, safe and loved.
Students and adults alike called the experience "life-changing."
Corona del Sol High School
At Corona del Sol High School, 130 students participated in Challenge Day. Afterward, they shared a feeling of empowerment to go out and make a positive difference. Staff members who participated indicated it made them more aware that students come from different environments and have varying social and emotional needs. The school's Challenge Week had a theme each day to promote school spirit and kindness. The themese were Be Aztec Strong, Be Together, Be Passionate, Be the Change, and Be Aware.
Corona del Sol students created a Be the Change club to build on the momentum of Challenge Day and this year it’s grown to 80 members. Mary Baker is the club’s sponsor.
“We are reaching out to kids and staff to make them feel welcome and that everyone has a place on our campus and that while words can hurt, they can also make a positive change in someone’s day,” said Baker.
The group continues the mission with campaigns like “Corona Cares” which helped classmates in need feel loved during the holiday season. They created a friends-giving celebration, featuring “grateful-grams” where students wrote small notes of gratitude to a classmate and the club members delivered them.
At Compadre Academy, Assistant Principal Dana Lineberger said she’s witnessed more kindness and understanding on campus and a profound change in some students who had been struggling prior to being involved with Challenge Day.
“I love how I find myself sharing a lot of the main components or challenge day with so many people in my life,” she said. “It is really encouraging and powerful for staff and students alike!”
Compadre Challenge Week activities included challenging students to be kind online by sending positive and encouraging messages via social media. Students also found unique ways to pay it forward by writing encouraging quotes and thoughts inside each book that was part of a book drive and donation effort benefiting elementary school students. Students used the Be the Change theme in a school-wide art project to showcase their commitments to themselves and to their education and they are in the process of creating a Be the Change club.
Mountain Pointe High School
At Mountain Pointe High School, in addition to students writing notes of affirmation that were posted on student lockers, they shared the positive changes they hope to make on their campus.
Students enjoyed the Challenge Day experience and were motivated to share it with classmates who did not participate. DECA students created a wall of posters asking students, “What’s your reality?” They used Challenge Day’s iceberg analogy - what people tend to reveal about themselves and the stereotypes they face represent the top of the iceberg, which is above the water, but their real self is down below. Challenge Day encourages students to drop their waterlines.
Mountain Pointe staff were also inspired by the event and were eager to reconnect with the small group of students each had shared the experience with. They have also joined the movement to send notes of encouragement to students.
McClintock High School
McClintock High School was one of the first schools in Tempe Union to host Challenge Day back in 2015 and was the first to create a Be the Change club. This year, the club members organized the week of activities for their campus to participate in.
There were high-fives all around McClintock on Be Positive day, and sticky notes with uplifting messages discovered on lockers everywhere for Be Kind Day. On a day dedicated to being safe, students had the opportunity to attend a guest speaker presentation about protecting yourself online.
Marcos de Niza High School
Like McClintock, this was Marcos de Niza’s third straight year to host Challenge Day. During Challenge week, student council spearheaded the kindness effort which included giving out compliments and candy, creating a kindness wall for students to sign, and having students write a kind message on strips of paper in the school’s colors. The student council members collected the strips, made them into a chain, and then displayed it in the football stadium for all to see at that Friday’s game.
While Marcos does not have an official Be the Change club, a few staff members are working together to start one soon.
“I think it's a super beneficial program and I would like to find a way for it to reach more students on our campus, said Sarah Tolar, Assistant Principal at Marcos de Niza.
Tempe High School
Tempe High Assistant Principal Eric Cruz said student feedback has been entirely positive.
“The students organized a message campaign that week where they intended to spread the message that ‘you are wonderful and amazing just the way you are.’ From the program we also had a renewed interest in a Black Student Union club and we recently met with potential staff sponsors to get things started,” Cruz said.
He said they’ll also be reconnecting with the Challenge Day participants to discuss ways to continue the momentum.
Desert Vista High School
Desert Vista Assistant Principal Tomika Banks said her campus was greatly impacted by Challenge Day.
“Students really enjoyed themselves and found out that they had more similarities than differences. They want to continue the movement of being the change and are ready to make some serious moves on our campus,” she said. “The staff that participated learned more compassion and had a chance to look at students in a different way. Challenge day helped some realize just how much our kids go through,” said Banks.
Several days after Challenge Day, all of DV’s participants were invited to a lunch to talk about how to move forward and to begin work on creating a Be the Change Club.
In addition to the Challenge Day event, Desert Vista hosted a parent and student education night for not just their parents and students, but for the incoming eight graders, and parents and students across Tempe Union High School District. The presentation was called “Turning Digital Stress into Digital Success” and featured information on the teen brain, internet safety, the dos and don’ts of social media apps and how to help teens protect and build their brand online.
While there are no students at the District Office, nearly 100 staff members gathered for a Challenge Day themed luncheon. They were shown videos of the Challenge Day events at the schools to give them a better understanding of what the students were experiencing on their campuses. District Office employees also participated in a few activities designed to create conversations and showcase the idea that they are more alike than different. Each was given a sticker to place on a map closest to the city in which they were born to demonstrate that while they all came from different places, with different upbringings and influences, today they are all here for one purpose, to serve the students of TUHSD.
The District Office staff also took a personality quiz to see which cartoon character they most closely identify with and then had fun learning which coworkers shared those same characteristics. Like the students, employees at the District Office were encouraged to carry on kindness activities and many followed up by giving out compliments, sending thank you notes and sharing inspirational messages.
Tempe Union plans to take part in a district-wide kindness week February 13-17, 2017 to keep the chain of positivity flowing and continue to remind one another that not only is it fairly easy to be kind and to make someone smile, but it makes everyone feel good, too.