Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Challenge Day addresses bullying head-on

A group of high school students from around the lake are raising money to finance Challenge Day at Clear Lake High School in Lakeport. Having heard first-hand from community volunteers who participated in Lower Lake and Middletown, I think this would be a worthwhile program at any and all of our schools because it deals with bullying head-on.

I especially like its motto, “Be the Change,” which encourages community residents to “Notice” what needs to change in their communities, “Choose” what they can do and then personally commit to “Act.”

A Clear Lake High School student did just that by submitting a guest commentary to the newspaper saying that bullying had to stop. The volly of objections that were raised to his column confirmed me in my belief that bullying is too often trivialized when it is not actively denied.

At an online forum, people fixated upon rallies at which upperclassmen boo the freshmen, taking a “who cares,” “it’s tradition” attitude and not devoting nearly enough attention to the writer’s account of having objects thrown at him and being the recipient of threats — except to elucidate the ways in which he somehow provoked it.

In other words, the victim of bullying is at fault for being the target of abuse.

Boy, was that a familiar story; I’d been told the same thing after writing about my experience with bullying in Calistoga schools. A vitriolic response to one of my columns exhibited classic hallmarks of bullying: verbal put-downs and threats of social exclusion. The writer took the view that I was responsible and that I could have fit in if I’d chosen to or tried.

I felt vindicated when a contemporary student’s account in my hometown newspaper confirmed the existence of bullying.

When I attended a production on my high school campus of “Bang, Bang You’re Dead,” not only did I observe that bullying was acknowledged but that it was also being addressed through programs like Challenge Day. I wish there had been a Challenge Day when I went to school.

The Challenge Day program clearly made an impact when it took place in the Lake County schools. “It’s an experience that’s difficult to explain,” stated letter writer Anita Gordon in  October 2006, describing her participation as an adult volunteer during Challenge Day at Lower Lake High School.  “You had to be there to understand the emotion and impact. Throughout the day I learned about what these kids and other adult volunteers have been through in their lives, and what students face both in and out of school. They learned about me as well. These kids were strong participants and it was a powerful day!”

Brien Crothers, a member of our Toastmasters club, shared similar observations when he described his experience with Challenge Day at Middletown High School.

Challenge Day asks communities to “Imagine a school where every child feels safe, loved and celebrated ... where bullying, violence and other forms of oppression are things of the past. This is the work of Challenge Day.” For more information about Challenge Day, visit www.challengeday.org.

A group of people have pooled their efforts to bring Challenge Day to Clear Lake High School. The group includes several student participants from Clear Lake, Kelseyville and Lower Lake high schools. Meetings take place at 6 p.m. on the first Monday of each month at Round Table Pizza in Lakeport.

Group publicist June Wilson said the goal is to sponsor 200 students, at $35 apiece, for the first event as well as to pay for substitutes for each teacher who would like to attend. Donations can be sent to P.O. Box 1314, Lakeport CA 95453 with checks payable to Challenge Day. All donations are tax deductible.

In addition to requesting funds, the group is also asking people to send brief letters supporting this event to CLHS principal Steve Gentry, 350 Lange St., Lakeport CA 95453.

Published Nov. 17, 2009 in the Lake County Record-Bee

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