Mineral County High School will once again play host to a program designed to effect numerous changes in social dynamics, thanks, in large part, to a grant the school was awarded because of the efforts of 14 MCHS students.
Challenge Day, a national non-profit organization that seeks to quash bullying and “other forms of social oppression”, awarded a grant large enough to fund about half the expense of bringing the program to MCHS.
“Challenge day is an anti-bullying program where the people from the program come to your school […] and you spend the day in the gym, or in the cafeteria, or whatever room you’ve got, and they do activities with you to show that bullying is a bad thing and it can be fought,” said Lauren Mayes, MCHS junior. “And it can be won.”
Alex Pleveny, junior, said the effort to return the program to the school started when she visited the Challenge Day website at the urging of one of her teachers, Delecia Jernigan, and saw the school could apply for the grant by making an anti-bullying video.
“This is, like, my main focus,” Pleveny said. “I really wanted to bring challenge day back because it seemed like a really good idea?”
Pleveny enlisted the help of her Jobs for Americas Graduates, a class to help high school students prepare to find employment after they graduate, and asked for volunteers from the school. All in all 14 students, many who are not part of the JAG class, volunteered, including Ashlynn Spanier who edited the video over Thanksgiving break.
The two-minute long video shows a fictional, unnamed MCHS student being harassed by other students over the course of several days. But each time, more and more other students stand up for the victim.
In one scene, for instance, a class pelts the students with paper missiles while the teacher’s back is turned, and another student jumps to her feet and speaks to the class.
“Not one person’s just a bully, but they can change from day to day to day because of circumstances, people around you” Mayes said.
At the end of the video the student’s locker is covered in hand-written signs disparaging the student, and when the bullied child walks past the locker, a throng of students, each of whom had bullied the victim at different times, pulls the students aside and tears the signs off the locker.
Most of the activities shown in the video are typical of MCHS bulling, Mayes and Pleveny said.
“Every school as to tackle bullying,” Mayes said. “It may not have been the poster board bullying where someone is pushing you down or something; but for our school I think our type of bullying is someone will say something to you, they mean it as a joke, but they don’t say it [like a joke], so it brings them down pretty good.”
The conduct at the high school is more vicious than the normal rumor mill, cliques, and difficulties dealing with other people that many people remember from their high school careers.
And he problem is getting worse.
“It’s gradually getting worse,” Mayes said. “And we’ve really got to fix it because it’s tearing people down. You can see it.”
While a presentation from the Challenge Day program may not fix the problem, it could spark a new attitude on the campus.
According to documents on Challenge Day’s website, the program hopes to instill understanding of a three step program for curbing negative behavior: notice they way people treat one another; choose what their lives should look like; and act in a way to bring that idea life about.
“At a Challenge Day, teenage students, teachers, school counselors, parents, and members of the community are challenged to step out of their comfort zones, open their hearts, and build connections with others,” a template news release on the organization’s webiste says. “Two trained Challenge Day Leaders guide participants through a carefully-designed series of games, activities, and trust-building exercises that break down the walls of separation and create new levels of empathy and respect.”
The grant is large enough to pay for a one-day presentation, but Mayes and Pleveny said they’re hoping to have a two-day presentation. The Mineral County School District will also have to pay travel expenses for the leaders.
Maybe and Pleveny said the JAG class is raising funds to cover the shortfall; and the grant has to be used by the end of the school year in June.