Challenge Day is coming back to the Estevan Comprehensive School, and that means the new crop of freshmen will continue what will be a tradition of going through the program that encourages students to see what life is like for their peers.
Nancy Zeleny, transition co-ordinator with the Southeast Advocates for Employment who is involved in bringing the event to the school, said the biggest theme of the workshops is promoting empathy among students in both a school and community setting.
“Don’t judge, don’t go off of first impressions. Everybody has difficulties in their life and successes,” said Zeleny. “Until you see that person for who they really are, you shouldn’t judge them. Take a look at who that person is underneath it all. It’s a great message for youth to get when they’re in Grade 9.”
The first Challenge Day came to ECS this past March, when the San Francisco-based group attended the school for three days of workshops. United Way Estevan contributed to the event and after seeing everything in action, decided to put up $15,000 each year for the next three in order to bring Challenge Day to the school’s new crop of Grade 9 students.
“What is really exciting is that we need to have approximately 25 volunteers everyday,” noted Zeleny. “Last year, United Way had volunteers there and they participated, and that’s where they were really able to see how successful it was for those students.”
Zeleny also noted that after the three days at ECS from Oct. 29 to 31, the Challenge Day crew will head to Lampman for a one-day session at the school there on Nov. 1.
She said the event held in the spring was a success, reaching about 300 students. This year the first two days will be for the Grade 9 students, while the third day will be for seniors who want to participate.
“What we were finding around the school is that some of the 10s, 11s and 12s were feeling kind of jilted because they didn’t get to take part, and they were hearing about it,” said Zeleny.
She noted that because aspects of Challenge Day are used for a reality TV show on MTV, youth are “really in tune with it.”
She said they are already seeing a change in the school system as well as out in the community. In three years, all students at ECS will have gone through the program, and Zeleny said that’s when the benefits can truly be measured.
“That’s when we’ll really see the effects and power of Challenge Day.”
If anyone is interested in becoming an adult volunteer, they are still looking for more, and Zeleny added that after seeing it herself in the spring, the experience is worth it for everyone.
“We’ll take as many people who want to come in and take part in it, because honestly, it’s just as beneficial for the adults who are involved as the students. I hear it all the time.”
She was one of the volunteers last March and called it an experience like no other.
“It opens your eyes with the workshops they take you through and the skill sets that you learn. You just don’t forget it.”
Zeleny said the days start with volunteers cheering on the students entering the gymnasium followed by some ice-breaking sessions.
“You’re having fun, and you’re mingling. You’re getting to know each other and just getting them comfortable in the room with each other,” she said.
Then the conversation turns more serious, dealing with bullying and respect, before breaking into smaller groups, called the family group. That’s where the game If You Really Knew Me … is played. Everybody in the group completes the sentence by sharing something personal that the rest of their group wouldn’t know.
“It blows my mind every time because these students just open right up,” said Zeleny. “They want people to listen to them. They want to have their stories heard.”
As the day nears the end, things get a little more fun again, and there are a lot of games to play.
“At the end of the day (the students) don’t want to leave the room, then they’re hanging around and they’re hugging each other. It’s an awesome experience to see start to finish,” added Zeleny.
She said anyone who wants to volunteer should call the school at 634-4761.