The Junior class of Thomas Jefferson comes together through sharing their hardships in a day full of challenging exercises.
On January 24th and 25th, 2017, the junior class will indulge in a day full of challenging exercises known as Challenge Day. This is a seven hour long workshop in which the community comes together to address personal problems or past issues that have affected each person. It is a day full of understanding, respect, and emotion, as well as a safe space to talk about situations that wouldn’t normally be brought up without a strong support system in place. The intended purpose is to demonstrate how we are all alike, despite our problems, and how we can unite through sharing our experiences and troubles.
Challenge Day began in 2009, when TJ’s social worker Samanda Davis saw the program advertised and decided TJ was in need of a way to bring the students closer together. It took three years before the day was implemented at TJ. This was possible through Challenge Denver, a nonprofit organization that raises money for schools wanting to introduce Challenge Day but can’t afford it. Originally, Challenge Day was set in place in order to unify students, starting during the class’ sophomore year, but it was moved to junior year since they’ve been together for a longer period of time. TJ strives to become a more compassionate school through Challenge Day. It is also seen as a day in which a platform is built for peers to make amends with one another and to become empowered by doing so. Principal Mike Christoff described, “There is usually a great amount of optimism and real desire to make a positive change in the school, and I think that as the adults in the building we can and should be an instrumental part in helping the students achieve this desired change.”
Challenge Day impacts students in the moment and far into the future. This day demonstrates how willing peers are there to help each other in tough times and through what seems to be impossible struggles. Senior Jacob Hermelink expressed, “It’s not about who has worse problems than you, but about how problems, no matter the severity, affect individuals.” Students learned that they aren’t alone in the struggles they face, and that there is always support from their peers. Having attained a better understanding of one another, the class became more closely knit knowing that there was always someone else there to help. Senior Caroline Cech voiced, “The benefit of participating was learning that it’s okay to open up and not be scared to express your problems.”
In hopes that the experience will break down walls that divide a class, junior Aidan Maloof mentioned, “It will give some perspective on people’s lives and really change the way we all think about each other and ourselves.” Seeing differences as obstacles, students typically avoid becoming unified in fear of a complicated dilemma, but have seen their peers overcome this. Expecting to acquire more knowledge about her peers, Chloe Ritcher stated, “We will all know the sides that we usually don’t show to anyone, making us all better friends and we will learn a lot of people’s stories and how its shaped them into the people they are now.”
Challenge Day offers a welcoming environment that embraces difficulties and differences amongst students. Though everyone experiences hardships at one point or another, it is here that these hardships are individualized and recognized. By participating, students discover themselves as well as others by seeing what can be done, so they can be the change.