Every parent of a child in the Falls Church public school system, or planning on it, should not miss at least one episode of the reality TV series entitled, “If You Really Knew Me,” airing on MTV this summer on Tuesdays at 11 p.m. It is not your ordinary reality show. It looks in on the extraordinary work being done in selected among the nation’s high schools and middle schools that have brought Challenge Days to their campuses.
The show permits viewers to look inside the day-long sessions that have a lasting, transformative effect on young lives, achieved in a single day. As described on the Challenge Days website, the program’s mission is “to provide youth and their communities with experiential workshops and programs that demonstrate the possibility of love and connection through the celebration of diversity, truth and full expression.” Since 1987, Challenge Days has served more than a million youth in 400 cities in 45 U.S. states and five provinces of Canada.
The six-and-a-half hour program designed to accommodate 100 students per session has been created “to build connection and empathy, and to fulfill our vision that every child lives in a world where they feel safe, loved and celebrated.”
The Challenge Day program was introduced to the junior class at Falls Church’s George Mason High School in March 2006, and has been repeated every year since. It is scheduled this fall at the school, and will also be introduced at the Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School for the first time this fall.
The program was initiated by a private contribution from News-Press owner Nicholas F. Benton through the auspices of the non-profit Falls Church Education Foundation. After two years, the program was deemed to have such a positive impact on the students at Mason High that the School Board began to pick up the tab for its annual continuation. With follow-on contributions by Benton, the program will now be launched at Henderson Middle School.
The MTV series follows students as they open up to each other through the exercises that make up the day-long program. Usually, highly-emotional unveilings of the inner feelings of students in the presence of their peers occur, testimonials about how they’ve been hurt by other students, and admitting to being hurtful to compensate for feelings of personal inadequacy.
Difficulties and traumas that students bring from their homes and pasts also come to the surface, calling forth the quality that proves the basis for personal growth and the fullest development of creative abilities: empathy.
When a student, or anyone, puts themselves in the shoes of the other, replete with the emotions associated with that other, a world of change can occur. Unthinking acts of mental and physical cruelty, especially via vicious comments on the Internet, often have very lasting effects on impressionable young lives.
In fact, it is worth noting that this TV series is airing as Suicide Prevention Week approaches.