Challenge Day brings change
by LEAH FINLEY
A 17-year-old Westerville South senior hanged himself on Nov. 20. David Yingling Saunders became the third Franklin County youth in less than a week to commit suicide.
Two days earlier, 15-year-old Gahanna Lincoln sophomore, Kelsey Thompson, shot herself in Gahanna park. In the same week an 8-year-old died at Nationwide Children’s Hospital after hanging herself.
Although this recent surge of tragedy is devastating the actions taken by the youth are not unusual.
According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, suicide is the third leading cause of death for children ages 12-18 and the second leading cause for ages 10-24.
More teenagers die every year from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza and chronic lung disease combined.
There is an average of 5,400 suicide attempts by teenagers each day.
With such staggering statistics, high schools have been taking action to combat the evergrowing issue.
When Saunders died, grief counselors were brought into South to provide help to students in need.
Programs in schools provide support, as well as suicide prevention programs. At North, this comes in the form of Challenge Day, a program that brings students together.
“When Spanish teacher Leroy Gilkey died, Challenge Day was a great outlet for coping” Challenge Day organizer Jen Kirk said. Kirk, an English teacher, is also the adviser for Be the Change group, a student group that helps organize the yearly event for students and staff.
Along with providing students the opportunity to cope the program also teaches students compassion and empathy, skills needed to stop bullying among adolescents.
Recent studies by Yale University show a strong correlation between bullying and teen suicide. The studies concluded that victims of bullying are five times more likely to contemplate suicide.
Challenge Day is a day long activity where students and staff participate in exercises that develop deeper understanding for their fellow student. The goal of Challenge Day is to ensure that “every child lives in a world where they feel safe, loved and celebrated,” according to their vision statement.
Challenge Day strives to encourage students to “be the change they wish to see in the world.” This is a quote from Mahatma Gandhi as well as Challenge Day’s motto.
This also serves the inspiration for the Be The Change group.
“I went to Challenge Day my freshman year. It was a great experience and I really learned a lot about my classmates,” Senior Manette Asta said.
Challenge was Jan. 27. this year. Many underclassmen attended the course.
“It was really fun” Freshman Eric Dunevant said, “A lot of my classmates opened up about their problems.”
The program will be back next year. Cost to sign up is $35 but scholarships are provided if student’s cannot afford it.