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By MARJORIE CLARK
Daily News Staff Writer
About 80 students from Schoenbar Middle School participated in a Challenge Day workshop on Thursday, and learned what it would take to be the change they wanted to see in the world.
Schoenbar Dean of Students Dena Smith said it was the fifth year the school held Challenge Day, and it went "really, really well."
"It was a powerful and amazing experience like it always is," Smith said. "I don't know why, but this one seemed even better than usual."
During the workshop, students dance and play games to keep the energy light and fun, but they also learn what it can mean to stick up for themselves, and end bullying behavior in themselves and others.
"Every once in a while, I may see bullying or get bullied, and it makes me flash back and think, 'I'm not alone,'" said Tug Olson, an eighth grader at Schoenbar who participated in Challenge Day last year. "I can't stand back and just accept it. I gotta stand up."
A student-led committee called Be The Change was formed after the workshop to help keep the students focused through the school year on what they learned. Six eighth-grade students who participated in the workshop last year will lead this year’s group.
Drew Pihlman, an eighth grader and member of the committee, said one of the last activities during the day, Crossing the Line, is one of the most powerful and emotional activities they do.
"It really connects you to everybody else in the room," she said. "It makes a special connection when you cross the line, and you see all the people that have the same problem as you. You don't feel like no one else cares because people do care about you, and there's other people going through the same thing. That makes it easier to go through it."
Eighth-grade student and committee member Emilio Torres agreed that Crossing the Line was the most emotional moment of the day.
"We're so comfortable with each other, and trust each other so much after the long day, even after we've told our stories and secrets, we still understand them in a way that no one else in the school can," Torres said.
Rich and Yvonne Dutra-St. John created the Challenge Day program in 1987 and have taken their workshop to 47 U.S. states and five provinces in Canada, as well as countries in Europe. The all-day workshop is designed for 100 students in 7th through 12th grades, and creates a place for students to build connections and empathy for each other.
The mission of Challenge Day is "to provide youth and their communities with experiential programs that demonstrate the possibility of love and connection through the celebration of diversity, truth and full expression," and to help create a world where every child feels "safe, loved and celebrated," according to its website.
At the Schoenbar workshop, Challenge Day leaders Florabeth Luebke and Schan Baker outlined the rules for the day — be inclusive; no put downs or teasing; compliments of love are encouraged; listen with your ears and heart; be open minded; drop the waterline and be real about emotions; and be the change you wish to see in the world.
They said that the students’ confidentiality would be honored with three exceptions —if someone was hurting them, if they were hurting someone else, or if they were hurting themselves.
"If you say something that you might think is a joke, and the other person takes it seriously and it hurts them, going to Challenge Day helps that," said Victoria Adams, an eighth-grader. "Challenge Day is the best experience you'll ever have."
Olson said Challenge Day is "an experience you can't get anywhere else."
"What they teach you, you just don't get it until you see it happen," he said. "You see other people you can relate to. I kinda feel lucky to be able to do it."
Smith said one of the amazing parts about Challenge Day is the response the school gets from the community. She said approximately 11 of the 33 adult volunteers for the day didn’t have kids who attend Schoenbar. The adults are there because the program is that important.
"That's really positive, that we're getting the community involved, and the community is seeing that these kids are fantastic," Smith said. "But also that they are in need of some support."
Smith said the Be The Change committee had its first meeting on Tuesday since Challenge Day and they are full of energy and ideas for the year.
"My job is going to be to harness that energy and to focus it," she said.
The group is already planning a lock-in at the school and a few fundraisers. Torres said the main point of the group is to act as a support for the other students.
"We meet and talk about Challenge Day so we can keep the spirit going, and not have this big event and then forget about it," he said. "Last year was led by teachers, and it's not the same as someone your own age telling you it's gonna be alright."