Harker underclassmen forge community bonds during second Challenge Day of the year


Anika Mani

Facilitator Danny Midborn runs through a crowd of student leaders on March 4 during Challenge Day. The upper school held Challenge Day for underclassmen, and upperclassmen who attended the Challenge Day in the fall volunteered to help out.

by Michelle Wei

Around 100 students and faculty engaged in community-bonding activities during Challenge Day, which took place Friday, March 4, from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. 

After Harker held a separate Challenge Day event in September on the Blackford campus for juniors and seniors, the school organized this opportunity specifically for underclassmen. Upperclassmen who had attended the previous event could sign up as student leaders facilitating a safe and open environment.

Challenge Day is a nonprofit organization “committed to building empathy and compassion in our communities.” Harker holds Challenge Day to unify community members under the school’s core values and reduce incidents of bullying by placing students in an environment where they could feel comfortable being vulnerable and showing support for one another.

“Challenge Day is a time where you let your guard down a little bit,” said Student Diversity Coalition (SDC) adviser Tyeshia Brown, who was involved in the effort to bring Challenge Day to the Harker community. “When you’re listening to other people’s stories… you can start relating, you can start understanding or even just feel what they’re feeling.”

The day began with various icebreaker games, including a game of “I love my neighbor,” in which participants sat in a circle and stood up to find a new seat if a prompt read aloud applied to them. Then, in multiple rounds of pairings, students introduced themselves to their partners.

“You got to meet people and have some fun with them even though you hadn’t met them before,” attendee Aaron Bao (9) said. “Especially because there are people from different grades, you probably would have never bumped into them or talked to them if you didn’t go to Challenge Day.”

Attendants then split up into pods called family groups, which consisted of five to six participants with one faculty member and one to two student leaders. Group members shared personal experiences andabout themselves and their goals and ate lunch with each other. Upper school Spanish teacher Diana Moss enjoyed connecting with more students and faculty at Harker through this activity. 

“My favorite part of the day was getting to know my family group,” Moss said. “The fact that we were sharing in a very intimate way, some very personal things, really helped me get a sense of connection with that little group. And so when I see those students on campus, it makes me happy. That was a highlight for me.”

After the family group activity, the two Challenge Day facilitators, Katie Salvage and Danny Midborn, shared about overcoming challenges they faced in their lives. SalvageKatie, who battled cancer and is now cancer-free, described her struggle with her hair falling out after chemotherapy and her subsequent decision to shave her hair and buy a wig. MidbornDanny discussed how he grappled with drug addiction and losing a close friend to a drug-related death. 

The day culminated with a “crossing the line” activity. During the exercise, the facilitators read out experiences ranging from losing a relative to being a target of discrimination based on race, gender or sexuality. Participants initially stood behind a line and crossed it if the experience applied to them.

“Crossing the line was so awakening because you saw people cross the line that you never imagined to because you see them outside, and they’re happy and they’re enjoying their life,” participant Alice Tao (10) said. “Then you see them cross the line, and you’re like, ‘Oh my God. There’s so much underneath.’ That contrast was my biggest takeaway from this experience.”

KJ Williams (11), an SDC co-leader who helped promote the event and attended as a student leader, noted how impactful the event was in transforming students’ perspectives of others in the community.

“There’s a story behind every person, and it’s something that you don’t really think about a lot of the time,” KJ said. “There’s so many people at school that you’ll never get a chance to interact with, and Challenge Day just shows you that all those people have stories, and they’re all interesting people.”

KJ reflected that through only a day of activities, students built stronger connections with their peers and teachers, which he believes they will carry with them beyond the event.

“I hugged a whole bunch of kids who I didn’t even know before, and now I’m friends with them,” KJ said. “I still talk to the people that I just met at Challenge Day. It brought me closer to everyone.”

Brown looks to Challenge Day as a way to break down barriers dividing the community by allowing students and faculty to learn about and empathize with one another regardless of outward appearances and qualities.

“Realizing you’re not alone is so big,” Brown said. “We all have things that we’re going through, [but] when we walk through the gates of school, we put it behind us. We walk in with a smile; we show faith. We do that as a defense mechanism, but it’s okay to let go.”