Challenge Success at WHS

Left to right: Michele DeOliveira and Wyndham Flaherty (Co-Presidents, WHS PTSO), Darlene Howland (Challenge Success team member), Lisa Bida (WEF Board Member), Olivia Gieger (WHS senior, Challenge Success team member), Amanda Brown (WHS English teacher, Challenge Success team member), Denise Pope (Founder, Challenge Success), Annie Hall (Challenge Success team member), Carol Morrow (WEF Board Member), Victoria Ostler (Vice President, WEF), Marc Bender (Assistant Principal, WHS), Dr. Jamie Chisum (Principal, WHS). Photo by Rama K. Ramaswamy

by Rama K. Ramaswamy

Challenge Success (CS), a new initiative at Wellesley High School (WHS), in partnership with Wellesley Education Foundation (WEF), is addressing the growing concern regarding increasing levels of stress and anxiety. The program was launched just a week ago, much to the interest of the Wellesley community. A mere five minutes into the Challenge Success presentation last Tuesday, January 24, and the Wellesley High School library had standing room only. Organizers approximated that there were 250-300 attendees.

CS is a nationwide program developed at Stanford University and co-designed by a former high school English teacher, Denise Pope, Ph.D., Challenge Success seeks to help communities expand their often narrowly-defined notions of success and offers practical, research-based solutions and interventions to reduce stress and increase student engagement and well-being. Challenge Success partners with schools and families to provide kids with the academic, social, and emotional skills needed to succeed now and in the future.

Thanks to a generous grant from WEF and support by the Wellesley High School PTSO, Pope and her CS team suggested, among other things, the “top 10 back-to-school tips to help your child thrive in school this year”:

1: Ask your child: ‘How was your day? Learn anything interesting? Get to spend time with friends?’ Instead of ‘How did you do on your math test?’
2: Resist the urge to correct the errors in your child’s homework. It’s your child’s work, not yours.
3: Work done with integrity is more important than an ‘A.’ Pressure to achieve only high grades can make students resort to cheating.
4: Make time for PDF - playtime, downtime, family time. Research shows PDF is critical for overall wellbeing.
5: Create a technology-free environment during mealtimes. Every adult and child can benefit from a break from constant interruptions and distractions.
6: Collaborate with your child’s teachers. Assume best intentions and work together to solve problems.
7: Fight the temptation to bring your child’s forgotten homework to school. Kids gain resilience by learning from small failures.
8: An extra hour of sleep is more valuable than an extra hour of studying. Research shows sleep deprivation can be associated with depression and anxiety.
9: When your child wants to talk with you, stop what you are doing and engage. Does ‘I hate school’ really mean something else: ‘I am being bullied’ or ‘I don’t fit in’?
10: Help your child develop his or her interests and strengths. Discover what your child really loves to do outside of school, not what you think a college admissions officer would like to see on an application.

According to Amanda Brown of the WHS English Department, “Denise spent much of the day at WHS meeting with our Challenge Success team, as well as with the entire high school faculty and a small group of students, in addition to the parent presentation.

“The SPACE structure [Pope] mentioned for school reform is good for all our students,” she added. “The ones who are overloaded and stressed, certainly, but also for those who might be disengaged or not being challenged enough. The aim is to make, what is already a great school, better for all of our students. And the key is that this kind of thinking requires the entire community to come together - parents, students and educators. Since Denise’s talk, I’ve had many inspiring and challenging conversations and am looking forward to many more as we begin this work.”

“The Challenge Success team was so energized by the turnout for Denise Pope’s presentation,” one WHS CS team member, Anne Hall, said. “We’re thankful to everyone who braved the cold, wet weather to hear Denise speak. With close to 300 in attendance, it is heartening to see how members of our community are willing to engage on this important topic. Our objective was to familiarize people with Challenge Success and to build momentum moving forward. I believe we accomplished that goal.”

Another WHS, CS team parent, Lisa Bida added: “Denise is an engaging speaker and I walked away with a sense of the value that Challenge Success will bring not only to WHS, but the entire school community. There is a huge disconnect between how our kids view success as something external: great grades, best college and making lots of money; and how we as adults know that success is intrinsic: engagement, passion, resilience and balance. Why the big disconnect? Denise also works with Silicon Valley and they asked, ‘What are you doing academically to suck the creativity out of these students?’ When they start working in the real world, they are unequipped to deal with failure, responsibility and risk taking. We talk about achieving balance, but balance is not static. It’s a life-long process of tweaks, both big and small.”

For Jamie Chisum, WHS Principal, what stayed with him after Pope’s presentation was: “We have to remember to tell our children that we love them unconditionally, every day.”
To learn more about Challenge Success, visit http://www.challengesuccess.org.

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