Rising to the Challenge | SierraSun.com

Rising to the Challenge

Keith Sheffield/Sun News ServiceKen Schreible, a Challenge Day leader, left, with one of the students at Friday's event. Challenge Day was designed to bring North Tahoe and Truckee students together to break down barriers and express their feelings.

Some North Tahoe and Truckee students regained a friend or two last Friday. Others figured out they shouldn’t be so quick to judge, while some learned how to listen to their friends.

And at the very least, some students went home thinking it would be all right to break out of their clique and meet new people.

“We want them to say that they feel empowered, or feel that they can take a leadership role in their community,” said Sumati Calliway, a Challenge Day leader.

Challenge Day is a national program that goes into community high schools and middle schools and works to break down walls of separation between students, as well as works to dissolve stereotypes teen-agers place on each other.

“Everybody goes through different things. Each person is dealing with their own problems,” said Stacy Essenfeld, the service learning youth advisor at North Tahoe High School. Essenfeld was one of the handful of people who brought the Challenge Day event to the Resort at Squaw Creek Friday. Others involved in bringing the event to the region were Tahoe-Truckee High School students Kaitlyn Selph and Brittany Davis, as well as Tahoe-Truckee High School staffer Allison Carter, and Abby Hutchison, an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer.

All told, about 100 students were selected from both high schools to attend the first Challenge Day in the Tahoe region.

In breaking down the barriers and stereotypes among the teen-agers, Challenge Day organizers set up a series of exercises that make the students comfortable with each other.

The exercises are built around the main event of Challenge Day called the “powershuffle.” That’s where the students experience powerful revelations about themselves and their friends.

Through the powershuffle exercise, which lasts almost an hour, students learn that they or others have been victims of vicious teasing, different forms of violence that include assault or domestic abuse, or that in some way or another some of them have been made to feel inferior.

At the start of the powershuffle, all students, teachers and volunteers stand on one side of a line marked with masking tape. They are asked to cross the line if they feel they fit into a group outlined by the categories that are read by one of the Challenge Day leaders.

“Step across the line if E,” Calliway said to the group of teens, “you have ever been made fun of because of you were considered overweight.”

About half the room crosses the line. No one is talking except for Calliway, who is reading down the powershuffle list.

Many emotions get exposed during the powershuffle. The air in the room gets thick, some students are teary eyed. Some teens are hugging each other in support as many keep crossing the line.

During the powershuffle it is learned that many students have had thoughts of suicide, others find out they’ve hurt fellow students with their words, some have been victims of sexual harassment, and some have come from bad situations at home.

“I’ve been judged because of the way I dress,” said Janae Leninger, a North Tahoe junior, after Challenge Day ended. “But I’ve probably judged others.”

For Leninger, exercise made her realize “so many people come from bad families, but they turned out so great.”

“It’s amazing to learn that about people,” she said.

For Tom Kleffman, a Truckee junior, he found that “certain people had problems in life I had no idea about.”

When he left Challenge Day, he thought about how he treats his younger sister.

“Maybe I could treat my sister better,” he said. “Sometimes we don’t get along.”

Selph, who had a part in selecting students for mentorship training on the second day of the event, is no stranger to Challenge Day.

Friday’s event was her fifth Challenge Day. She was part of a small group of Truckee and North Tahoe students and staff who went to a Yuba City high school a year ago to participate in that school’s Challenge Day events.

Since then, the Yuba City school has instituted continual Challenge Day programs as well as mentor programs — something counseling staffs would like to set up at both Truckee and North Tahoe.

A Challenge Day is planned for the freshman classes for both schools next month. Challenge Days are also planned for the incoming freshman classes each year after.

The hope is that every student will have been through a Challenge Day before graduating, Essenfeld explained.

“I thought it was a good experience,” said Jake Cohen, a North Tahoe senior. “I think everyone should go through it.”

But for some of the students, though they agreed what they went through Friday was a good experience for them, they know that every day back at school is not Challenge Day.

“It’s a good idea in theory, but people get caught up (in the moment),” said Alicia Mumbert, a North Tahoe senior. “When they go back to school, it’s not Challenge Day anymore.”

“If it’s continued, it can be really astounding,” she added.

Cohen shared similar sentiments.

Though he thought he learned a lot about people he didn’t know before, there were a few parts of the program that seemed unrealistic to him.

“To love everyone is not realistic,” Cohen explained. “In my life there are people I couldn’t love.”

Perhaps, therein lies the challenge.

For Truckee sophomore Leslie Ajari, she found herself doing different things at school Monday that she wasn’t doing the week before.

“I was talking to different people,” she said. “I was getting weird looks from my friends. But I made more friends. It was a good thing.”

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