Challenge Day returns for freshman at Menlo-Atherton High School
Recently, freshmen participated in Challenge Day at Menlo-Atherton High School for the first time since 2019, before the pandemic. With the goal of forming deeper connections between students and building compassion within the community, the event leads freshmen through a series of games and activities to share personal challenges. Students talk about their experiences in small “family groups” in order to create an intimate feel.
“It gave me a better sense of perspective to learn about all the different things people have to deal with,” said freshman Austin Horton. Many freshmen agreed, thinking the event put into perspective what their classmates are going through.
“It is good to know that people come from different backgrounds,” said freshman Itzel Garcia. “It kind of stopped the stereotyping that goes on here.”
Sealoyd Jones III (pictured), one of the Challenge Day leaders, said: “This is the best experience I’ve had here. I think, post-COVID, people are more receptive.” Every freshman interviewed agreed that Challenge Day was an important experience that the school should continue.
“It was really good to be able to see everybody under a different light and that everybody has struggles,” said freshman Hailey Preuss. Garcia said, “I found out a lot of people have experiences in common with me. It’s good to have people that you can understand and talk to.”
Additionally, PTA organizer Carolyn Kryger applauded this year’s students who went into Challenge Day not knowing much about what to expect. “I think it makes it harder not to have prior knowledge of the event,” she said. “I really do think people might be silent and not say anything today, but four weeks from now or six months from now, they might totally understand the benefit they received today.”
“There are no expectations,” Challenge Day leader Jones III said, “It’s an opportunity to show up however it feels best. In a successful Challenge Day, people leave feeling seen, loved, and celebrated — connected and inspired to do something better with themselves.”
Hailey Preuss said the ‘if you really knew me’ activity was her favorite event of the day. “I felt like we were all on the same level and it didn’t really matter who you’re friends with or you were before because we’re all just talking about what we’re going through.” In this activity, people reveal who they truly are, deeper than first impressions allow.
However, while some students enjoyed Challenge Day, others did not.
“One of my personal challenges with it was that I felt like I was burdening other people with my problems,” said senior Natalie Tantisira, thinking back on when she participated in the event freshman year.
Overall, however, many people believe it was a powerful day. “I think it was a great experience,” says freshman Matthew Sanford, even though he thought “it felt like we were stuck for a long time, with only two breaks.”
Senior Adam Paczuski offered an idea to improve Challenge Day. He said: “Honestly, I think that Challenge Day should be right in the middle of high school. By then you’ve gone through the high school experience a bit more, and you have more things to talk about.”
Junior Isabel Seniawski, who missed the opportunity to participate in Challenge Day her freshman year due to the pandemic, said, “I honestly wish we had done it. I think it sounds like a good way to connect with people.”
M-A has set up a catchup date in January for all current juniors to participate in a Challenge Day. “I’m excited to know how it lands on kids that are more developmentally mature,” PTA organizer Carolyn Kryger said. The PTA is looking for volunteers to help with the event; you can sign up here.
About the importance of Challenge Day for high schools, Jones III said, “This is a really important, impactful period in your life. To make connections with people that could possibly sustain forever is huge. I wonder what it would have been like to know some people for real. Maybe I’d have some deeper connections, and maybe that would have helped me throughout the rest of my career.”
PTA organizer Liliana Perazich said, “I hope at the end of the day everybody understands that they are not alone in the world and there are many channels of support that I would hope that they would reach out to. It takes a village, so don’t be hesitant to lean on your village.”
Author Sidney Loftman, a senior at M-A, went through Challenge Day as a freshman
Photos by John Donald (c) 2022