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April 16, 2008 > Robertson students become the change

Robertson students become the change

By Shari Wargo
Photos By Shari Wargo

Have you ever lost someone you love deeply, a family member, a parent, both parents, a close friend? What about expectations and values? Has there been a time in your life when you have been told that you can not share your emotions because of your gender, or when you said "no," you were ignored? Have you been told you are less valued than someone else or been discouraged by another or yourself? Did you have a quality childhood?

These are a few examples of the very real and extremely personal questions asked of over 40 Robertson High School students on Challenge Day, Thursday, April 3, in the Irvington Community Center. The sophomore and junior class group of students attending the day-long event were there either because they were enrolled in a peer class at school or a teacher or counselor recommended that they attend. During the question period, students were asked to cross a line on the floor if their answer was "yes" to a question. Students and adults from the other side of the room showed support with a hand signal learned earlier in the day, an indication of love.

As result, many teens and adults discovered that no matter the age, people standing in the room facing one another had been through many common experiences. Students shared with peers - many of whom they had never before talked to or may have felt uncomfortable with - their feelings and aspirations. A desire for change was expressed so friends didn't have to hurt anymore. Robertson High School peer class teacher, Michael Cox, six school counselors and Challenge Day leaders took part in the activities with students so they could see that they are not alone. Participants became aware that another person's appearance is not always the best indicator of who they really are, what they have done, or what has been done to them.

Challenge Day was started in 1987 "to help transform the lives of teenagers," said Cox, who advocated the program for Robertson students. "The goal [of creating Challenge Day] was to stop the teasing, violence and alienation that are so deeply a part of the school experience for millions of young people every day. Through a variety of games, trust-building activities and presentation, they [the students] were given a unique opportunity to see themselves and the people around them through a new set of eyes," he added. According to Cox, Thursday's Challenge Day was made possible through a grant by FASHSI (Fremont Adolescent School Health Services Initiative).

Challenge Day created an environment of trust and participation. Students who felt that they were labeled "trouble" decided to share their feelings with one another and others. Some of the affirmations students made by the end of the day were to let go of hurt feelings so that they don't pass them on to someone else, to make friends with their schoolmates rather than enemies, to give at least 12 hugs a day, and to be very sure to let someone important to them know how thankful they are for them.

So what happens when the students leave Challenge Day, what happens the next day at school? The students asked this same question and challenged one another to acknowledge each other at school from now on, to give hugs and carry on with the positive feeling of their experience instead of simply leaving it in that room.

Students signed their names on a board to prove that they were up for the challenge and would stick to their word. Cox concluded that Challenge Day "is the most powerful activity that has ever been presented to students at Robertson." The event was a sincere emotional journey, so powerful that Challenge Day leaders asked everyone to fill out a card and write a letter to apologize, say thank you, say goodbye or acknowledge an important presence in ones life. That letter was shared with the four or five people in the small group they belonged to for the day and a guarantee given that the letter would be delivered to the intended recipient. This was an appropriate conclusion to emphasize the theme of the Challenge Day, "Be the Change."

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