PROVO Dozens of crumpled tissues strewn about the gym floor were evidence the teens had been through an emotional day.
Independence High School brought in "Challenge Day" for three days to give students intensive coaching on self-esteem building and inclusion.
About 270 of the 300 Independence High students attended one of the optional full-day workshops, which continued through Friday.
A different group of students went through the program each day. Activities include team building and character refining. The teens acknowledge they all have challenges they can face together.
Freshman Kelly Jones, 15, said she liked that there was no drama and everyone got along during the program.
"And at the end, everyone hoped to change," she said.
In one activity the program leader asks questions and the students step across a line drawn on the floor if the answer applies to them. Questions include whether they had been victims of verbal or physical abuse or ever felt excluded or been teased or bullied.
Independence High lead secretary Rozan Holbrook saw the Challenge Day program on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" a year ago and vowed to bring it to her school.
The program cost $10,000. The school received a $5,000 grant from Utah Valley State College. Another $1,000 came from private donations, including a portion from a Provo school board member. The remaining $4,000 was funded from the school's budget, Holbrook said.
Some of the Challenge Day activities involve small group discussions during which the teens talk about their feelings.
Members of the public volunteered as facilitators. Provo School Board member Carolyn Wright attended, as did Provo district assistant superintendent Ray Morgan. Others included teachers from Timpview and Provo high schools; professors from Brigham Young University and Utah Valley State College; and UVSC students.
Candice Leavitt, 25, Orem, a junior majoring in psychology, said she heard about the event through her mediation class. She spent Thursday with the teens.
"I learned that the youth in our community have so much potential and a lot of times they are not given the acceptance they need," Leavitt said.
Facilitators said they were surprised, during the line-crossing activity, how many teens indicated they had relatives who had alcohol or drug problems, or had had a parent die.
Ashlie Stitt, 23, of Provo, who teaches history at Independence High, served as a facilitator. Stitt said she gained an appreciation for the kids and what they go through. "Sometimes we are so quick to label them," she said. "If you had gone through some of the things they had gone through, you wouldn't get out of bed in the morning."
Students who completed Thursday's session said they learned valuable lessons and their self-esteem had increased.
"It's helped me to feel better about myself," said freshman Jordan Green, 15.
Freshman Korynne Wamsley, 14, said it's important to feel safe in the school environment and know people are there for support. "You don't have to be spreading rumors about other people or doing things that would hurt other people," she said.
Independence High is the alternative school for Provo School District. Students, generally at-risk, opt to leave the traditional school setting for the alternative which is more compatible with their needs.
For more information on the program, go to www.challengeday.org.
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