"Amazing", "reaffirming" and life changing" were just a few of the superlatives used to describe the experience of participating in the recent Challenge Day program at Wantagh High School.
Challenge Day is a six and a half hour interactive program designed to build connections and empathy and ignite a movement for compassion and positive change. The program took place in the high school north gym over a period of three days.
The sophomore class was divided alphabetically into three groups with each spending one day participating in the program along with some teachers, staff and peer leaders from other grades. The sophomores were chosen as the target group because they would have the ability to sustain the mission for the next two years at the high school.
The theme of the program is “Be The Change” and the mission is to inspire people to be the change they wish to see in the world, starting with themselves. Two enthusiastic leaders who work with the large group to create trust and connections lead the program.
Challenge Day begins with some icebreaker activities to allow participants to get relaxed and step out of their comfort zones. The activities get more personal as the day goes on and address common issues seen at schools including cliques, gossip, teasing, bullying, apathy, stereotypes, etc. During the course of the day students and adults are encouraged to share and express their true selves and try and let go of self-limiting thoughts and beliefs.
Follow Wantagh-Seaford Patch on Facebook
One activity that was described as having the most impact was called “Cross The Line where program leaders begin with a question and if it applies to one's life, the participants cross a line of tape on the floor and walk to the other side of the room. The questions start off simple but become increasingly personal and difficult. The activity proves to be moving and emotional because it challenges perceptions of people and what they have been through.
Challenge Day also provides tools and alternatives for healthy self-expression, celebrates diversity in all people and provides a catalyst for positive change in schools and communities. By the end of the program, participants were encouraged to share the changes they were willing to make in order to “Be The Change.”
The Challenge Day program was brought to Wantagh High School through the encouragement of its principal Carolyn Breivogel, whose own daughter had participated in the event last year as a student at Calhoun High School in Merrick. The money for the program was funded through the generosity of donors including the class of 2012 as their senior gift to the high school, the 6-12 Association along with a sizable donation from the Alyson Rosenblatt Memorial Foundation. Teachers gave their days to participate and Wantagh parent Laura Memisha and the 6-12 Association donated water and lunches for all three days.
“The result of all the planning and organizing was well worth it," Breivogel said. "Students and teachers left the experience with a feeling of empowerment, compassion, kindness, understanding and most importantly a desire to make a difference.”