Madison Schools battle bullies with Challenge Day

By Jim Abath- bio | email

MADISON, AL (WAFF) - Students at Discovery Middle School couldn't believe what happened on February 5, 2010 when one of their classmates was shot and killed in the school's hallway.

"I thought it was like a door slamming," recalled one student.

14-year-old Todd Brown was shot and killed, allegedly by another student. Some say bullying was behind it and Discovery students believe it.

"The shooter had to feel threatened in some way to get to the point where he felt like he needed to shoot," said 9th grader Blair Heater.

A year later, change is evident in the school hallways.

"There's not a lot of bullying here, "said 8th grader Kendyl Waddell.

With the anniversary of the Discovery shooting, Madison City Schools wanted to take another big step, so they turned to the Challenge Day organization, which takes its unique one-day program around the country to schools. Their vision is to make sure children feel safe, loved and celebrated and make bullying a thing of the past.

"Maybe our school will change in some drastic way," said Nicole McDuffie, a Bob Jones High School sophomore. "I think it's pretty exciting. My expectations are really high."

Organizers set up one Challenge Day each at Discovery Middle School, Liberty Middle School and Bob Jones High School. 100 students from each school spent six and a half hours together, sharing their likes and dislikes. At the center of the group, two leaders in red t-shirts helped them open up.

"Look at all these different skin colors," said Jen Wilson, one of the Challenge Day leaders. "Look at all these different hairstyles and these body shapes and sizes and clothing styles. It's so beautiful if we look for that in people."

Nearly every high school student in the gym said they had been bullied. Half of them said they had been bullied by someone in the room. That's one reason why Challenge Day breaks into small groups and gets really personal. The program leads students to find how much they have in common with each other.

"In a small group, you can actually express more feelings, and they you can get into a large group and express yourself more," said Tuttle.

The challenge now is how to take the experience of 100 students and spread it to the other 2,200 students at Bob Jones High School.

"It's not about going outside those doors and saying 'you need Challenge Day, you need Challenge Day,'" said Wilson. "It's about going out those doors and showing people what it looks like."

"You've got to go out there and show people it's alright to be different," said sophomore Parris Erskine.

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