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All you need is love!

Oxford students prove they're up to the challenge

OHS student Abby Marion makes the sign language gesture for “I love you” during Challenge Days held last week. Behind her is fellow OHS student Maddie Line. Photo by Trevor Keiser. (click for larger version)
January 23, 2013 - "Life changing" was the word most students used when describing Challenge Days held at Oxford High School Jan 15-17.

Whether it was dancing back to back with someone with a different style of shoe, sharing a most embarrassing moment or just being able to show themselves vulnerable in front of a group of peers, Challenge Days gave students an opportunity to "cross the lines" and step out of their comfort zone to befriend someone they otherwise might not have.

"Just in the time I've been here in this room I feel like I've grown as a person and become more carefree," said Kanon Hulbert. "I feel better."

Shelby Hruska agreed.

"At first I was a little nervous because they had us dancing and I'm not the kind of person who will bust out and dance in front of everybody else," she said. "But I realized at the end, I loosened up a little bit and was more open to talking to people and not being so nervous of what people are thinking because everybody is doing the same thing.

According the website challengeday.org, the Challenge Day Assembly package is designed to unite all students and staff members through progressive activities that demonstrate empathy and authenticity. The goals of the program are to awaken participants to their individual power to create change and inspire them to shift the culture of their school toward positivity and acceptance."

"I view everyone differently and the people I expected most not to cross the lines, they blew my mind and totally changed me," said student Audrey Parks. "I am so glad I've had this experience."

The program challenges students to "be the change" in their schools through seven "Challenge Day Norms," which include:

n Be inclusive

n No putdowns or teasing

n Compliments & love encouraged

n Listen with your ears and heart

n Be open minded

n Drop the waterline/ Get real

n Be the change you wish to see in the world.

Student Tyler Kwapis said it was a great way to learn that even though everyone has problems, no one is alone in that problem.

"We really talked about what makes us (who we are), and why we're proud to be who we are," he said.

Fellow student Jeremy White agreed.

"It was great to get an insight on everybody's lives . . . and walk in their shoes and give you a new perspective on life," White said. "It definitely changed my perspective (and motivated me) to work hard on trying to accept everybody and not pass judgment."

Freshman Olivia Schassburger described Challenge Day as "awesome."

"I will never look at those people the same way ever again. I didn't just see 'jocks' anymore, I saw normal people. People I (would) see in the hallways, (like) seniors who I judged," Schassburger said. "I saw some of them break down in tears and that is amazing."

Principal Todd Dunckley said he saw Challenge Days as a "big, big opportunity," as part of the vision for everything the district is doing and the "real reason why they got into education was about people first and the subject second.

"This helps give us the time and right focus to get to the core of what we're here for. The key is what we do after this," he said. "This is the nice switch that turns on and drives the energy and now we have to take that and grab onto that on our own with the students being the leaders, so I think it's our awesome window of opportunity to pave our own path and make this go on."

Part of that path going forward is bringing Challenge Days back to OHS every year.

"With everything, you still need a refresher and you still need people to help you refocus," added Dunckley. "This is one of the couple best things I've ever seen in education that will change the climate (in the school)."

Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.
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