was introduced to me by , a Cupertino mom whom I’ve come to know through her contributions to Cupertino Patch. Sakkas has been invaluable to me, helping connect me to people and getting to know the community better, so when she emails and says, “Hey, are you interested?”—the answer is yes.
And thanks to the value my company places on volunteer work—through a Patch program called , employees are encouraged to volunteer on company time—I was allowed to have Rachel Stern fill in as guest editor and manage Cupertino Patch so that I could spend the day at .
Sakkas suggested Challenge Day would enhance my understanding of local kids, and as usual she was right.
Boiled down, Challenge Day is about acceptance, understanding, and Gandhi’s words: “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.”
Yukari Salazar, the Cupertino High School teacher who has organized all the Challenge Days—one each semester for the past four years—says the day is also about letting students know that teachers, and all adults at the school, are there to support the students in non-academic ways, too.
Challenge Day is a bunch of hours spent in deliberate awkwardness funneled down to a couple of key, poignant moments; one happens when you go into small groups—“families”—and share personal thoughts, experiences, fears, and yes, tears. The other moment to remember is at the very end of the day—more on that later.
By the time you get to family time, Challenge Day facilitators have already primed the crowd with their own personal stories, and tears, that let you know the people you are looking at may not be the people you judged them to be when you first saw them. Behind the private walls of their homes and inside their skin, they know pain, too.
Sitting in tight circles, knees touching, family members—I had two boys and three girls in my family—take turns completing the sentence "If you really knew me, you would know ___," then you fill in the blank.
Each person gets two minutes, and if someone wants to say nothing the family sits there in silence, in support of however that person wants to spend their two minutes.
You can look at a person and think you know what they might share, but it’s best to throw preconceptions like that out the window—you don’t know.
It's not all sad or emotional. Fun things are shared, too. You know, like the weird things only your family and close friends know and love about you. But it's those gut-wrenching things that brought out the tears in my group, me included.
Once the awkward antics, screaming, laughing and crying subside the most powerful moment of the day comes; the time when you silently cross the line.
Everybody—adults and teens—stand together on one side of a line and are expected to remain silent throughout the entire exercise. A Challenge Day member announces a situation and to those whom the situation applies, they cross the line and turn to face those who stayed behind. Those who stay behind hold up a hand showing the "I love you" sign used in American Sign Language. It's a simple movement, maybe even a bit corny at first blush, but powerful when you hear the scenarios described, feel the quiet of the room and the tug at your gut as you look across the line at one another.
If you've ever known someone or been close to someone who has suffered with cancer, died of cancer, or who has lost a loved one to cancer, cross the line.
Lots of us crossed that line.
If you've ever known someone or been close to someone who was killed by a drunk driver, cross the line.
If you've ever been picked on, teased or bullied, cross the line...raise your hand if the person who bullied you is in this room.
Yes, hands went up.
On and on went the exercise with situations such as dealing with racism, death, addiction, and more. Each time the ones those to whom the situation did not apply showed support by holding up high the I love you sign.
The last circumstance presented was one that still leaves a lump in my throat: If you had a childhood, cross the line.
I crossed, turned and looked at the couple dozen teens and adults who stayed behind, and joined those who had crossed as we, for the first time in the exercise, gave the “I love you” sign to those who were left behind.
Think about it for a moment; for whatever reason those people—teens and adults alike—were in a life situation where they felt they missed out on the silliness, play and development time that the rest of us enjoyed in our childhood. And there they were, telling the rest of us that they missed out on something that is a given; we all have a childhood, don't we? Apparently not.
Challenge Day was brought to Tino following a Healthy Kids Survey conducted a few years back that showed half the students surveyed said they believed there was an adult on campus they could turn to when they didn't feel safe. That meant the other half didn’t feel the same way, and that wasn't good enough for the school.
So, even though the $3,200 per semester the school pays for the Challenge Day program is costly—Salazar says they usually need financial support to bring it back every semester—the program is well worth it.
Asked if any Challenge Day students ever later expressed what the program did for them, Salazar says: "It's a life changer for some."