Challenge Day 2013: An Emotional Day; A Life-Changing Experience
By Rachel Kornbluth '18
If you really knew me, you would know that I have always been annoyed by and afraid of cliques. If you really knew me, you would know that I have always struggled in math until this year, and I don’t like to read. If you really knew me, you would know that I have felt lonely, excluded, and angry at times.
Thanks to Challenge Day 2013 I now feel like I can talk about...and just be who I am...more comfortably.
I walked into school that February morning with butterflies fluttering around in my stomach and bubbling like a pot of boiling water with excitement. Having heard that Challenge Days past have made people cry, I had made it clear to my friends that I would be wearing no make-up whatsoever that day. Ironically, it made me feel more comfortable without it. The moment I walked into the gym with a group of friends those nerves were soothed. Teachers, staff members, and eighth and ninth grade students were making a tunnel for us to run through. We ran under their arms and had a short dance party. That was just the beginning of an emotional, exciting day full of tears, laughs, and hugs.
After the mini-dance party, we all sat in a giant circle in our gym. The air was thick with anxiety as people looked around confused, not knowing what to expect. The moments of silence before our coordinators started talking was scary. It was that awkward kind of silence. Then “Migs”, as she is known, began speaking along with the other coordinator “Tony”. Tony and Migs told us about Challenge Day, what it is, and other interesting facts about it.
I had thought Challenge Day was a team building program. But I learned that it was a day to step out of our comfort zones, get to know each other, and become more open with our peers.
We are divided into two “teams” at Brady Middle School and this was Team B’s Challenge Day experience. The other half of the seventh grade participated the day before. As a group, we played many different games. Some were fun, like when we were asked to change seats according to things we had in common; other activities were powerful like having to finish the line “if you really knew me…”. But they all had a common theme – making us feel more comfortable with the kids in our grade.
Challenge Day was a challenge for me. Certain activities made me, along with my peers, cry because we were compelled to dig deep within and talk about things we don’t usually talk about. We cried for each other, ourselves, and other people that weren't even in the room. We cried about family life and pressure and other issues in life. We cried about mistakes we had made in the past that we regretted and wanted to change.
One of my classmates, Audrey Savransky summed it up well: “It was really moving. At first it was a lot of fun and then it got more serious. It was really hard at first, but after we got to know some of the people, it was really easy, and I felt open and I could tell other people did, too.”
I never knew that many kids in our grade have such emotional, touching, and sometimes sad stories to tell about their lives. We all thought we knew each other; but we really didn’t. No one in our grade knew about each others’ private lives and what happens outside of school. Kids feel the need to fit in. They want to fit in with one of those “typical” middle school cliques to make themselves feel important, to make themselves feel wanted. But the truth is, to stay in a clique group, additional pressure exists to look the same and most importantly, act the same. If you don’t, you have got yourself a problem…or so we are led to believe. But all of us are not the same. I learned at Challenge Day that we all have differences that we should respect.
In my opinion, the point of Challenge Day was to get everyone to step out of their comfort zone and talk about issues they wouldn’t usually talk about with people they wouldn’t usually talk to. This is what I found very challenging, but also very moving. As part of the experience, we were assigned to “Family Groups”…four or five students with one or two adults where we had the opportunity to talk about anything…anything that would help those people to get to “really know” who we are. I personally became extremely close to my family group, and we learned things about each other that are different than what you would talk about on a regular school day. I think that was such an important part of the experience: It is important to learn about people that you wouldn't usually know because it will make people get to know the person before assumptions are ever made.
Challenge Day brought us something that I have never seen in our grade: support for each other. We experienced this during an activity called “Cross the Line.” This was the hardest, most emotional part of the day, but we got through it because of support. As soft music is played in the background, Migs asked us to cross over a marked line on the ground when she said something that applied to us. When we crossed the line, we turned around to look at the people who didn’t have to cross the line but were supporting us through the symbol of love as well as those who had crossed with us. The supportive hugs are what kept people on their feet. When I stepped over the line, I was surprised to see all the kids that have to deal with some of the same problems I have…and equally surprising to see how many kids go through things I don’t. I was one of the first to begin to cry; but it was okay because of all of the hugs and support from both girls and boys.
When Mr. Brian Frank, the Principal at Brady Middle School, was asked why he thinks Challenge Day is important, he responded, “I think Challenge Day is impactful, and it makes a big splash, if you will. If our students can take some lessons learned from the day and can actually apply them the day after, and the day after, and the day after that, then it will have been worthwhile, so I think that’s the most important thing.”
In the days following Challenge Day, my friends and I took notice of differences in behavior around the seventh grade. While we didn’t see any obvious changes, it was still clear that people were thinking about the day and seemed to be more aware of other people’s feelings. Even in class, I noticed that students were being respectful of the teachers and acting more mature.
Challenge Day especially made an impact on new students as well as students who were experiencing it for a second time as eighth graders.
“It doesn’t lose its value. It’s still as moving as it was last year,” said eighth grader Isabel Sands. “It’s still an incredible experience. So much can change over the course of a year. You can forget so much. I feel newly inspired, and I’m really glad I did this again.”
“This experience was awesome. It was amazing to be a new student here at Brady and experience it, and it was wonderful,” added eighth grader Janetta Edwards. “It made me decide to make new changes and help bring others into this environment that we’re in to be a part of it.”
My hope is that Migs’ words will echo in the ears of my classmates and me for a long time to come. She said her “personal reason for doing the job is to inspire any student, even just one student, to feel like their voice matters, to feel like whatever they have to say counts in this life.”
My voice does matter. And if you really knew me, you would know that my hope for my grade is for us to keep the promises we made at Challenge Day…and I challenge all of us to take a chance and get to know someone outside our comfort zone. You never know: that person could be the person who changes your whole life forever.
((editor’s note: Rachel Kornbluth of Orange Village is a seventh grade student who volunteered to share her first Challenge Day experience with us. She is the daughter of David and Wendy Kornbluth and big sister to Jason. She has attended the Orange City Schools since kindergarten. This is the third year that Challenge Day has been brought to Brady Middle School. The Elementary PTA provided supplies and helped organize parent volunteers and refreshments for the adult volunteers.))
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To view the slideshows from the two Challenge Day experiences, please click on the photos below.