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Challenge Success program plans to redefine student priorities

Written by Shagun Khare

In a competitive atmosphere flourishing with bright students, stress in high school is inevitable. However, with the help of Challenge Success, there is a chance that this can change. Challenge Success is a program focused on overcoming the stigma that success can only be attained through grades and test scores. By working directly with schools such as Gunn, the Stanford-based program is able to provide research-based solutions to reduce student stress and create a more effective learning environment.

Previously, Gunn had been working with Challenge Success for three years but due to an administration change, it was discontinued for the 2014-2015 school year. While unable to get the program rolling in the beginning of the year, Principal Denise Herrmann made sure to maintain a relationship with the program in hopes of continuing it the following school year. Due to unanticipated events that occurred, however, Herrmann requested that the program be reintroduced immediately and Challenge Success willingly obliged. “There was a lot of spotlight put on academic pressure,” Herrmann said. “So when I reached out a second time, they understood we were in a place where we could really use some outside resources.”

With the program now in place, Challenge Success is focusing on obtaining student feedback and teacher coaching. One way of doing this is through the Stanford Survey of Adolescent School Experiences that all Gunn students will be taking later this school year. According to Challenge Success Schools Program Director Margaret Dunlap, this survey will serve as “benchmark data” for the Gunn program to start identifying areas of improvement within the school.

Along with this, Challenge Success has over 10 years worth of data that has been collected and analyzed since its inception in 2004. This data will have an integral role in supporting the Gunn program. “A lot of what we do is education and sharing the research-based solutions to increase student engagement while reducing undue stress,” Dunlap said. “Our work encourages educators and parents to create conditions both at school and at home to foster a balanced student life.”

Later this school year, the program will also be hosting a teacher workshop that will focus on how teachers can enforce effective pedagogy and increase student engagement. Temporary Gunn coach and Challenge Success co-founder Denise Pope is currently organizing the event. “We will be showing the connection between disengagement and stress,” Pope said. “Then we are going to share the data we have about student health and well-being and start brainstorming ideas about which actions Gunn might want to take.”

Later in August, the Gunn Challenge Success team, comprised of students, parents, and teachers will be formed. The team will meet consistently throughout the year to create a vision and action plan on how to create more balance in students’ lives. Herrmann believes that this team is a valuable asset. “We have really talented students, we have amazing faculty and our parents really want the best for their kids,” she said. “So, knowing that, and knowing that we have this great resource, I think it’s a win-win situation because we will have a blend of people who have the will to make things the best they can be along with people who have research and experience to make that happen.”

Herrmann hopes that as a result of programs like Challenge Success, Gunn will be able broaden its definition of success. “It’s not that being an excellent student and getting to an Ivy League is bad —that’s great—but so is wanting to be an artist or wanting to volunteer for a couple years,” she said. “My goal for the whole program, and for the whole school, is that early in life, students realize that they have choices and that there is not a predetermined path for them.”

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