Challenge Day Should Be Every Day in Schools


More than two decades of research demonstrates that education which promotes social and emotional learning (SEL) gets results, so why isn't every district challenging their schools to implement SEL techniques?



More than two decades of research demonstrates that education which promotes social and emotional learning (SEL) gets results. According to the Collaborative for Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), “SEL programming can have a positive impact up to 18 years later on academics, conduct problems, emotional distress, and drug use.”


It was great to see SEL come alive when I attended Challenge Day at Springfield Local Schools. Challenge Day is a SEL anti-bullying program that’s been in existence for over thirty years. It’s meant to challenge students in middle and high schools across the country to come together for one day to get to know one another through various activities, games, and exercises. 


Students typically say the day gets “real” when they are asked to “cross the line.” Facilitators make heart-felt statements to students, like, “Cross the line if you’ve ever felt judged because of the color of your skin,” or, “Cross the line if you’ve ever been teased because of your body image.” This experience helps students see their fellow classmates for who they really are, typically, for the first time. They also see how either their words or the words of their peers have hurt others. In return, students often grow in empathy, form deep bonds, heal, forgive, create allies, and gain strategies on how to stand up for what is right. Challenge Day is truly a powerful day and it continues to change students’ lives for the better.


After Challenge Day, Springfield school counselors, Kelsey Dempompai and Stacie Stroshine, gathered students into an assembly, formed a student panel, and the panel spoke about the impact Challenge Day had on them personally. One important question was, “What do you think would help make Springfield a more welcoming, inclusive place where you feel like you belong?” Students simply stated: 

  • Smile at one another in the hallway.

  • Pause before you judge someone, as you are likely stereotyping them. 

  • Take time to listen. 

  • Appreciate one another and offer support when you know someone needs it.

  • Ask if someone is okay.

  • Say hello to someone in the hallway.

  • Go outside your “bubble” and offer a simple act of kindness to someone.

  • Offer people free hugs.


The list went on and on with simple, respectful, kind gestures that can be done student-to-student, educator-to-educator, and student-to-educator.


All I kept thinking was about how Springfield, and schools across America, would completely change if Challenge Day was every day. What if elements of Challenge Day were a part of the core curriculum in schools? 


The sad truth is that most educators, school administrators, board members, and policy-makers haven’t completely bought into the idea that (SEL) is a critical part of a student’s ability to learn and grow. This narrative was discussed deeply at the inaugural CASEL conference that I attended this past October. According to CASEL’s research, school administrators need more guidance, training, and support.  


All is not lost and there is hope! In April, 2019, Ohio became one of only eight states that has adopted social and emotional learning into the Ohio Department of Education’s strategies. It’s actually one of the “four domains of learning.” Schools across Ohio are being encouraged to adopt social and emotional learning into their respective school and pedagogy strategies, and Springfield is taking the lead by using my RISE program. 


In August, 2019, Springfield educators were introduced to my RISE program through a day-long workshop. They learned and experienced:

  • Why daily reminders of “WHY” they went into education increases a sense of purpose

  • How adopting a daily practice of self-care reduces stress and increases self-confidence

  • How trauma affects one’s ability to learn, and steps to reduce the effects of trauma 

  • Why relationships matter and how they impact a student’s life 

  • Steps to increase social and emotional learning at school


After the day-long workshop, educators took an assessment survey. The results of that survey offered insight into areas that need improvement. Not surprisingly, the survey themes relate closely to the sentiments, comments, and suggestions raised by the Challenge Day student panel participants. 


Now it’s time to do the work.

We’ve started by assembling an internal advisory team made up of educators and students to work together throughout the 2019-2020 school year. This team will focus on strategies and methods to establish hope and trust Springfield-wide. We’ll roll out various messaging, monthly challenges, engage in critical conversations, and other activities to create a culture and climate at Springfield Local Schools that is welcoming, inclusive, caring, and that evokes learning and growth.


I’m sure there will be plenty of challenging days ahead, but we can safely say that Challenge Day will be happening every single day at Springfield Local Schools thanks to the superintendent, board, and the educators saying YES to RISE. 


The question is, who’s got next? 

© 2019 by Diana Patton