In June 2002, I moved to Southern California for the second time. In August, days before the school year began, I got a job teaching Behavioral Health at Hemet high school in Hemet, California. 

Health class in both Illinois and California was one semester. In Hemet, I taught five classes a day. I showed certain videos that I would view ten times a year. I still have lines memorized from my favorites.

One favorite was Surviving High School. It was a ‘news report’ that followed a diverse group of students from northern-ish California (Yuba City high school). The students were exposed to a variety of ‘real life’ experiences. The intention was to expand their general perceptions, and to connect to one another through proximity and shared experience. The students were tasked to return to their high school and lead a program called Challenge Day with the diverse student body. The desired outcome was a more integrated and inclusive school environment. A few hot topics included bullying, gang violence, and suicide.

The school shootings in Jefferson County, Colorado happened in April 1999. If I recall correctly, this teen experience was being filmed concurrently to the school shootings. The teen experience wrapped up with a visit to Columbine high school. The overall experience culminated in the Yuba City high school gym.

The Hemet high students were always captivated by the 80 minute video that we would watch over two class periods. I cried each time I watched, as did a number of the students. Inevitably, several of the responses I would hear were ‘can we do that here?’, and ‘that would never happen here’. 

Challenge Day. 

If you have attended a Challenge Day as a student, teacher, staff, or parent, you know the emotional experience it evokes. It’s powerful.

I think it was 2015-ish when I attended my first Challenge Day at Grant Beacon middle school in Denver. I had been connected by a friend to a nonprofit organization that raised money to host Challenge Day in Denver public schools. As a person involved with the nonprofit, I had the opportunity to attend an adult workshop offered to the donors that was facilitated by Rich and Yvonne Dutra St John, founders of Challenge Day. Rich and Yvonne were celebrity status for me as I had watched them over and over on Surviving High School.

I attended several Challenge Days with students, as well as two adult workshops. Always just as powerful and emotionally exhaustive (in a good way). 

Several things struck me as a result of these experiences. 

  1. In the adult workshops, the adults were not processing their current experience. Adults were processing the experiences they had growing up – family, community, school. They may have ‘presented’ with current physical/mental health, relationship/family ‘issues’ – but what came up in the workshops were deeply seeded emotions that were a result of earlier life experiences that had never been examined and disrupted – until that day. 
  2. It was well over a decade past my first viewing of Challenge Day. The program was still every bit as relevant and powerful. 

Number two is what drives my ‘day’.

ordinary day…extraordinary way.

Challenge Day is a powerful program. To my knowledge and experience, there is no school social-emotional program as ‘challenging’, effective, and real as this program. 

Why is it that such a powerful program grounded in raw exposure to a shared humanity is as relevant twenty years later. Does it reflect growth or more of the same?

I wonder about the ultimate sustainable growth outcome of a program like Challenge Day. It seems it would be to eradicate itself – it would phase out and no longer be relevant as the effects of the program would shift experiences and grow momentum moving forward. 

What about this idea of ‘more of the same’? Is that a goal? Is there a way to be that once was and the goal is to return to it and stay there?

I met Candi CdeBaca at the adult workshop with the Dutra-St Johns. At the time, she was running a nonprofit called Project VOYCE. Candi is now a council member for district 9 in Denver. 

There is something about Candi. She is smart. She is confident. She is unafraid.

Here is Candi’s wikipedia bio: CdeBaca was born in Swansea, a neighborhood of Denver between rail lines and the Interstate 70. As a teenager, she came home one day to find her mother stuck in the street, unable to maneuver her wheelchair over a ramp-less curb. This experience led her to become an activist. In 2006, she co-founded Project VOYCE (Voices of Youth Changing Education), in response to the closure of her school, and helped to organize a class-action lawsuit against Denver Public Schools. CdeBaca was valedictorian and class president at Manual High School, and a first-generation high school graduate. Eventually, she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees simultaneously from the University of Denver, then left for Washington, D.C., to work in education advocacy. She returned to Denver in 2014, and once again became involved in local politics.

I wonder about Candi growing up. I wonder if when Candi grew up she interpreted her environment and experiences in a way that allowed for a sense of ‘what do I have to lose?’; whereas another person in another set of circumstances and experiences may unknowingly grow from a sense of  ‘I have everything to lose.’

Everyone has different ways of experiencing their life. We also all have our own ancestral codes that contribute to how we experience whatever it is we experience. 

I wonder what it would be like to have the real time experience of ‘day’ living from a fully integrated belief that resonates with a mindset of ‘today I have everything to gain’, v. ‘today I have everything to lose’.

Are these two mindsets and their opposition part of the polarization that is so visceral right now?

How much control does one have in their experience to create and live from the essence of possibility, rather than living from the essence of fear?

Does living from a state of possibility about ‘what could be’ create a different sense of present moment experience when compared to living from a state of fear about ‘what could be’?

Self-care. Caring about yourself enough to be curious about your inside world. What story do you tell? Is it rooted in a sense of scarcity and fear? Is it rooted in a sense of abundance and possibility?

You may have a substantiated reason for your fear stance. But then what? Where do you go from there?