On Friday, April 29th, students in the Gregory School community participated in a school-wide Challenge Day, held by members of The CLUB (A Community of Leaders Unblocking Barriers).

Members of The CLUB revamped the past idea of Diversity Club through the guidance of Dr. Michelle Berry and Ms. Ashley David. Together, the two collected a new group of students, designed a new purpose, and ran with it.

Fourteen new CLUB members were initiated at the beginning of the year, spanning across all grade levels. Over the course of the year, the CLUB met every Wednesday (and sometimes more) during lunch, trying to discover what the goal of the year would be.

Two new ideas were born about a month into the school year. When The Gregory School was vandalized with obscene graffiti last fall, it was the topic of discussion among students all over campus. The CLUB, hearing of and seeing the aftermath, decided to tackle the problem. The vandalism, however dreadful, couldn’t have come at a better time.

“We were thinking of how to create something from the vandalism,” CLUB member Caitlin McCormick said. “We decided to focus on graffiti specifically, because we thought we could change its connotation and make it awesome.”

In other words, The CLUB decided to re-graffiti TGS.

After receiving Dr. Sherrill’s approval of sketches drawn by alumnus Alexandria Valencia (‘14), plans were made to work on the project over Spring Break/Interim Week.

Two locations arose from many discussions — the short blue wall located in the grass by the sophomore area, and the larger blue wall facing the gym (also in the sophomore area). Both areas can be seen by almost everyone on campus at some point throughout the day, making them great choices for the project. (Yes, sophomores, this is why there is a coat of primer on the blue wall.)

Valencia’s designs entail a mountain scene with a hawk flying above — indicative of our school mascot — holding words that TGS students all chose to describe what comes to mind when they think of The Gregory School. Some of the most popular words were ‘community,’ ‘family,’ and ‘home.’

Together, Valencia and The CLUB plan to work on the mural and finalize it in the coming year, due to the fact that Challenge Day became the area of focus for 2016.

In the fall, members of The CLUB wrote stories based on a highly general prompt. The purpose was to elicit a wide variety of answers that maybe would or maybe wouldn’t connect: What are you passionate about?

As it turns out, the results were more similar than originally expected. Six main affinity groups surfaced: gender/sexuality equality, domestic abuse/changing homes, environment, self love/confidence, mental health, and race/religion. As members read about each story, an overwhelming reaction was that the group needed to publish these to the public and try to connect the students, as well.

Thus, Challenge Day was reborn.

Beginning in February, the group started making plans for. The goal: connect the students, remove the layers of superficiality prevalent on campus, and reveal a little more information found “under the water line” of the typical amount shared.

Ms. David, The CLUB’s co-advisor, commented, “I think the most interesting part of The CLUB is that the students who are involved choose the direction of the club.  Through initial conversations, students were able to share what they were passionate about and what they thought Challenge Day should include.  Connecting with other students was a theme that emerged and became the main focus for this year’s Challenge Day.  I have not been at TGS for a Challenge Day so I didn’t know what to expect.  I really enjoyed working with CLUB members to plan Challenge Day and was so impressed with each student’s dedication and hard work to make this year’s Challenge Day a success!”

Through weeks and weeks’ (and more than a few meetings’) worth of planning, the day finally started to come together.

Three large blocks of time were designated for each main focus of the day: icebreakers (a situation in which unlikely groups of students came together to address their ideas and opinions on controversial topics, while also getting to know one another), affinity groups (a separate group of students coming together to discuss one of the aforementioned six larger topics), and finally a large, culminating activity to bring the entire campus together and debrief the day.

Students were asked to answer the following prompt: “If you really knew me, you would know…”

Some answers stayed fairly light-hearted.

“I have four sisters and two brothers.”

“Ball is life.”

Others, however, answered the prompt with a deeper interpretation.

“I’ve been raped twice.”

“I’m physically and emotionally bullied by my mother daily.”

And, of course, the responses were completely anonymous. No one knows who wrote on which slip of paper, and no one will know.

As a CLUB member, that was my favorite part of the idea –– the activity brought the entire student body together without there being a sense of judgment prevalent, and without there being too much uncomfortability and vulnerability (though we did want to make the students a little of both).

With all of the hard work put into the creation of the day, ultimately The CLUB could go home at night feeling grateful, because 67% of the student body said they felt more connected to their community after Challenge Day, and 70% said that they wanted Challenge Day to be an ongoing tradition.

2016 was the most positive Challenge Day yet to date. Hopefully, The CLUB can continue to make a positive impression on TGS students for years to come.

This year, Challenge Day ended The CLUB’s year on a good note. Ms. David added, “My favorite part of this year’s club has been getting to know and connecting with each CLUB member on a deeper level.  I have been so amazed at how intelligent, passionate, and overall amazing each CLUB member is.  Wednesdays during lunch became one of my favorite parts of the week because I got to interact with our CLUB members.”

Thank you to those who came to school and participated; we hope you felt as good about it all as we did.

After Challenge Day, students even asked Dr. Berry if they could join The CLUB. For those who didn’t, but want to, Ms. David advises: “Joining the CLUB allows students to work with and connect with other students who want to make a difference at TGS and the larger Tucson community.  The CLUB allows for students to build new relationships with their peers, discuss important issues, and work to make TGS the best school it can be!  I hope after this year’s CLUB, students feel a little more connected with their peers and feel they had a chance to share their story.  I can’t wait to see what next year’s CLUB brings!”