“I’ve been teased and put down - in fact, I’ve been teased by people in this room. This day will change things,” a student remarked at the end of the first ever Challenge Day at Manchester Township High School.
About 100 MTHS students and 25 staff members participated in Challenge Day on January 9, 2012. This full day program focuses on preventing harassment and bullying by fostering a school climate of empathy and tolerance, challenging students to “Be the Change” within the school.
In an emotional moment at the end of the day, students got up to speak, praising the program and extending personal thank you’s to both teachers and friends who have supported them. As they spoke, everyone in the room held up their hands with the sign for love to show their support.
“I’ve been bullied, judged, and teased for being who I am. To apologize for being who you are is an insult to yourself,” said one young man, pledging to be proud of who he is and urging others to do the same.
One student said, “Today, I have high-fived and hugged people I never would have thought to before.” and he said he would continue doing it from now on.
Another student remarked, “You helped us all realize we all have problems and we’re all alike, and we can learn to get along.”
A female student called up another young woman and apologized for not doing anything when others teased her on the bus and for joining in the teasing herself. “I’m sorry and I promise that from now on, I’ve got your back.”
Speaking about the ripple effect she hopes will happen after Challenge Day, a young woman said, “It’s gonna happen. If every person that leaves here spreads it to one other person, it’s gonna happen.”
The 6 1/2-hour Challenge Day program aims to build connection and empathy, and to fulfill the vision that every child lives in a world where they feel safe, loved, and celebrated. The idea is for participants to take the lead in creating a culture of acceptance and compassion within the school. Students and staff gathered in the gym, divided into small groups that worked together on activities throughout the day, led by Challenge Day presenters Angela Aguilar and Schan Baker.
Vice Principal Evelyn Swift coordinated the event with a committee of people who have been planning since school started. The school received generous support/funding for Challenge Day from the PTA, Manchester Twp. Educational Foundation and Municipal Alliance. The program doesn’t end after the big day, with a “Be the Change” committee continuing activities throughout the year.