Students learn to break through stereotypes

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— For Steamboat Springs High School senior Roddy Beall, breaking through stereotypes is his main focus in facilitating the middle school's Challenge Days.

Although he was not part of Challenge Day at the high school last year, he will step in to help eighth-grade students build a strong character by being a high school mentor.

"Eighth grade is a huge time in the transition of being a child to a young adult," Beall said. "This will bring us all together and help kids out by breaking through stereotypes."

Half of the eighth-grade students will participate in the middle school's Challenge Day today, while the other half will begin the daylong workshop Tuesday.

Joan Allsberry, counselor at Steamboat Springs High School and district health coordinator, brought Challenge Days to the middle and high schools last school year.

Allsberry participated in Challenge Days at a school in El Segundo, Calif., and knew it would serve well in a community like Steamboat.

"Ever since I moved here, I've wanted to do it," Allsberry said.

The eighth-grade students will have the opportunity to participate once every year and high school students will participate once every other year, Allsberry said.

Allsberry and high school student Jenny Lee Gardner went to the Steamboat Springs School Board meeting Sept. 17 to recruit board and staff members to participate as adult mentors during either of the days.

The middle school Challenge Days host about 50 volunteer adult mentors from teachers to business owners and about 35 high school volunteers.

Beall said he's excited to be a high school mentor and hopes the eighth-grade students will bring what they learn at Challenge Day to the high school next year.

"It's bringing them together as a class. Hopefully they will bring unity and enthusiasm into the high school," Beall said.

After telling school district staff that Challenge Days provide an outlet for students to communicate about problems and earn respect among their peers, Allsberry said the event was so popular at the middle school that she started them at the high school.

Middle School Vice Principal Jerry Buelter voiced concern that the concept of Challenge Days is good, but maintaining respect throughout the year would be difficult.

Allsberry said, "We'll try to do mentoring stuff throughout the year. (The leadership students) can meet with their original groups and see if they're falling back into the trap."

Allsberry said it's easy for students to fall back into segregating and isolating each other when there is not constant openness and communication.

"If there are more adults present, they can help reinforce those positive beliefs," Allsberry said.

Throughout the day, students and mentors will enter a large circle in the gym and talk with someone they never have before.

Beall said he will be with a group of about 12 to 16 students today facilitating discussions and watching how a class leaps over its obstacles of pressure and judgment.

"I've heard so many good things about it and I want to become a part of that," Beall said.

Students and mentors discuss what it is about them that makes them special. After a day of activities that reveal many secrets, people write something positive about another person on a piece of paper taped to their back.

In one exercise, the power shuffle, everyone walks over a line of tape on the ground if they answer "yes" to certain questions.

For instance, students may be asked if anyone has ever teased them about their weight or if they've ever thought about committing suicide. Students answer "yes" if they step over the line no words or explanations, just the action.

"They bond in a way and maybe feel validated. Students make incredible amends and are more open-minded," Allsberry said.

Students begin to look past the material fae of someone and get to know their peers on a personal level.

"We'll stop and cry and support each other," Allsberry said. "It's really validating for those who have been targeted with so much hate and pain."

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