Navigating the waters of parenting tweens and teens can be overwhelming. If you are paying attention to the news, we clearly have major work to do, in the way of supporting our kid’s emotional development. We turned to our friend and neighbor, Tracey Brummett, for her wisdom on this topic.

You’re the Co-Founder of Challenge Denver. Can you tell us about the work you do and why, now more than ever, it is imperative that we bring these programs to our youth?  

Betsy Leighton and I co-founded Challenge Denver over 10 years ago, due to our growing concerns over increasing levels of trauma and bullying in schools. This was contributing to a tragic increase in suicides and violence among our schools across the Denver-metro area. Over the past decade we have supported social emotional programming in over twenty-five schools in Denver and Aurora.  At Challenge Denver we provide middle and high school students with social emotional programming designed to create healthy school environments where students feel understood, accepted, and connected.  Because EVERY child deserves to feel safe, loved and empowered at school.  At the heart of Challenge Denver’s programming is Challenge Day, a full-day social emotional learning experience that invites students, staff, and community participants to build self-awareness, create connections across differences, and reflect on our shared humanity. This inspiring and provocative program catalyzes conversations, new understandings, and relationships that can have a transformative impact on school culture.  Founded in 1987 by Rich and Yvonne St. John-Dutra, Challenge Day has reached over a million youth and adults worldwide.

Our work is still imperative because unfortunately the same issues that compelled us to start this work are as prevalent today, maybe even more so. Here’s what our students have to say:

“I’ve never experienced anything like Challenge Day. It makes you realize that lots of people have had hard lives, it’s not just you. It made clear that everyone has feelings that are important and real. I noticed that after Challenge Day, the cliques weren’t as strong. Sure, we all still have our friends, but we are better about hanging out with people outside our friend groups. We are more accepting, more like a family. The day made me realize we have to work together – not against one another – to be successful. It also helps adults realize what kids are going through, how they truly feel on the inside – I saw my teachers cry as they got to know us and our struggles. They got to see what’s inside our hearts, and we saw inside theirs.” – 10th grade student- DPS High School

By now we know the importance of mental health in schools. Can you elaborate on SEL and what this looks like in a school environment?  

Social-emotional learning can be defined as: “the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.  Social Emotional Learning (SEL) in schools is everyone’s job, not just the mental health team. That is why we begin our work with schools by coordinating and supporting staff trainings in Trauma-Informed Practices (TIP).  We believe these TIP trainings are essential for preparing teachers and other school staff to effectively identify and respond to students with high-levels of trauma.  Moreover, these trainings set a crucial foundation for Challenge Day, as school staff develop and/or strengthen their trauma-informed lens and related strategies. With our programming we seek to provide avenues and support for social emotional learning. As an outside nonprofit partner to the schools, we are just one facet of the school’s SEL programming. We seek to serve as a resource and ongoing support team. 

In what ways can someone get involved with Challenge Denver and bring the program to their school?   

The best way to get involved is to volunteer to be an adult participant at a Challenge Day. Each Challenge Day requires 1 adult for every 4 students.  To sign up go to our website: www.challengedenver.org. 

Being the mother of twin teen daughters, what advice can you offer other parents of teens when it comes to nurturing and supporting their emotional health?

Being a parent of teens is not easy, each day can be a bit of an emotional roller coaster. I try to provide ways for my girls to talk to me without judgment or giving them advice. Which is not easy.  Most of the time they just want to express or share but they do not want me to solve their problems or tell them what to do. At Challenge Day, we call it emptying your balloon— the emotions that we have bottled up inside need to be released or our balloon might leak or pop.  The leaking or popping can look like some of the scary and sometimes dangerous things we have seen happening to teens. I try to help them find healthy ways to empty their balloons—  talking, being alone, listening to music, exercise, crying or laughing. I encourage them to find safe outlets for their emotions and I try to do the same for myself. Be willing to make mistakes and to allow your teens to know they can, too.  I think we are all trying so hard to get it right all the time, and the reality is we learn the most when we are open to our mistakes and seek to learn from them. Being a role model of what we expect is one of the best parenting tools I have found. They are watching us.

When you are not working, how do you spend your free time?

I love to run, bike, go to concerts, have dinner parties with friends and enjoy nature by hiking or just hanging out in my backyard with my family and dogs.

What do you like most about living in our neighborhood?  

I love being able to walk to great food, shopping and parks. I also love to just walk with our dogs and talk with our neighbors.  I love that most people choose to live here and that reflects in how they live and the positivity that surrounds our neighborhood.

We encourage you all to check out Challenge Denver at challengedenver.org, and learn more about bringing their mission into your home and school. 

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