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New Hope-Solebury Middle School hosts Challenge Day to foster inclusive learning environments


New Hope-Solebury Middle School hosted Challenge Day, an intensive, day-long series of activities for seventh graders to help strengthen peer connections and to foster inclusive, safe spaces.

Founded in 1987, Challenge Day’s programs have reached 1.2 million youth and adults in 2,700 schools and organizations around the world. The interactive program is facilitated by trained Challenge Day leaders, who guide the students in exploring how people develop barriers and model important tools for building community.

For Principal Dr. Erik Pedersen, Challenge Day represents an important means of reaching educational goals for all students. Pedersen said, “I am excited to welcome Challenge Day back for a second year. We are finding unique opportunities to foster students’ development and fostering a culture of respect and acceptance in our school. This is vital to creating a learning environment where all students can thrive and will give them critical skills that will serve them throughout their lives.”

“We purposefully host this program for seventh graders because it is a big transition year for students. They have moved beyond the elementary framework and settled into our middle school building, and are also starting to confront new challenges in navigating peer relationships,” shared social worker Christyn Golden. “By offering the program to seventh graders, it gives our team members another year to build upon what they learned from the experience.”

The full day consists of large and small group activities for students, teachers, and staff. Segments fuse high-energy games, which heighten engagement and foster new connections, with transformative exchanges about shared struggles – developing students’ capacity for empathy and encouraging a community of unified support. The day concludes with the mending of conflicts and expressions of appreciation.

Piloting the program for the first time last year, New Hope-Solebury students expressed positive feedback about the experience and gained noticeable ground in developing empathy for their peers. Most compelling, students reported in an anonymous survey that before the program only 27% “felt aware of what life is like for their schoolmates.” In the same survey, 66% reported that they “felt aware” after participating in the Challenge Day program. One student explained, “I learned that everyone is going through something in their lives and we have a lot of things in common.” Another student shared, “Everybody is fighting their own battles and dealing with their own suffering. Don’t be quick to judge others or put them into a box. Reach out to them, support them, love them. Be a friend. Don’t be afraid to reach out, to stand up, and say something.”

For New Hope-Solebury Middle School and the district-at-large, there is a strategic focus on supporting the social-emotional needs of students to position them for better learning in the classroom. Challenge Day serves as a valuable, intensive activity within this greater context,

“Having personally witnessed the powerful, lasting impact this day has on our students, I am always so grateful that a new cohort gets to experience a day of belonging and camaraderie that we can then build upon through our School Wide Positive Behavior Support programming efforts,” said Middle School Assistant Principal Anthony Barth.

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