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Students break down ego barriers at seminar

April 13, 2001

Bill Lansing told a crowd of 120 high school students attending a leadership seminar Thursday at the Union to accept one another - in all circumstances.

“Look on the optimistic side,” said Lansing, a sophomore at Lansing Eastern High School, 220 N. Pennsylvania Ave. “Notice the little things that are good and life will be better. Every time you think about saying something bad about somebody - say something good.”

Lansing and students from nine area high schools came to campus to discuss issues such as teasing, violence, racism and stereotyping at the sixth annual local “Challenge Day” conference.

Teens passed the microphone and shared their stories of isolation and loneliness. Students showed support for each other through applause, hugs and words of approval.

“It makes you realize how many people you may have hurt in the past,” said Whitney McBurrows, a freshman at Lansing Sexton High School, 102 McPherson Ave. “And that you shouldn’t judge people from the outside. Introduce yourself to that person and find out more about them.”

There were a few rules during the workshop: no put-downs or teasing and stay open-minded and supportive.

Yvonne and Rich St. John-Dutra designed “Challenge Day” in 1987. The California-based program’s goal is for students to incorporate the group activities and trust-building exercises into their daily lives.

“What the students get from here is that they’re not alone,” Rich St. John-Dutra said. “Every single person wants and feels the same things inside. Not only are they not alone, but they have the power to support one another. This teaches compassion and respect.”

The “Challenge Day” program is featured in the book “Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul.” The book and the day both encourage teen-agers to examine student concerns.

“They broke down the separation barriers so the students could connect with their hearts,” said Linda Kurtz, adviser of Lansing’s Youth Action Committee. “Ultimately (the students) saw that they are connected to everyone in the room. And that the cliques and groups in high schools are creating the Columbine-type disasters because people feel left out.”

Many of the students left the seminar saying they didn’t feel alone anymore and they couldn’t believe they had hugged and connected with so many individuals in the room.

Hannah Gardi, a member of the Youth Action Committee, attended the conference to learn some leadership techniques.

“It’s hard,” said Gardi, a junior at Haslett High School, 5450 Marsh Road. “In school you get pushed off by societies and it makes it so you don’t want to express yourself. But that just means you just have to work even harder to express yourself.”


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