CEC’s Aspen Challenge Team will take to the stage this weekend to speak about their project and the impact it made on the school and the community. As we wish them luck, please read about some of the things they have been up to over the last eight weeks—
Our team addressed Christopher Gandin Le’s challenge to identify the ways that people in our community can improve their mental health now by creating safe spaces in our school or neighborhood where people can share how they’re feeling. The goal was to get people talking – not just about suicide, not just about bullying – about hope and life. One of our team members, Walter Ochoa, eloquently said, “This challenge is important because it is an opportunity to make the community happy. Everyone is too busy with their lives to take a moment to appreciate the joy of being alive. I want to show people that life is not always difficult. It might look like a storm now, but at the end there is a rainbow waiting. Putting a smile on someone’s face is all the evidence I need to know that I made an impact in their life. It’s the little things in life that make the biggest difference.”
Our solution was comprised of many parts including several art projects, a community day for our school, and a new peer mentorship program built to last at CEC. We started with a vision – everyone in the community joined together by our similarities and our empathy. The concept of a DNA strand came to mind to represent our connectedness. Later, we came up with the fitting acronym – Denver’s Not Alone. Our team is comprised of a very diverse group of thinkers, yet we all worked together seamlessly because of the passion we had for our topic! Each person contributed something unique from connections with the Denver community to skills in art or construction. Our team held each other accountable, and we were successful because everyone came through for the good of the team!
Our team wanted to work with Challenge Day Denver to put on a community building day for our school, but we quickly discovered that we could not afford this. We reached out to some former DPS students from the Montbello neighborhood to help us create something of our own that could have a similar effect on our school. Along with Greg McCoy and his team, we planned DNA Day. This wonderful experience brought our school together with a lot of laughs and fun at first. Then Greg shared his compelling story before giving every student the opportunity to share his or her story with a small group. Things got very real for everyone at CEC. It was a chance for each student to truly be heard. The theme was “remove your mask.” By the end of the event, everyone had the opportunity to reveal their true selves. Greg and his team are a part of our sustainability as they have already begun to schedule DNA Days with other DPS middle and high schools.
To keep with the idea that everyone has a story to tell, we started a 6-word memoir campaign inspired by Jordan Wirfs-Brock and FLOODLIGHT (floodlightproject.org). We sent out letters to important people in our community and we invited students and staff to share their stories with us in 6 words. We even visited an assisted living center and collected 6-word memoirs from some of our elderly community members. We got some great stories to share, and we needed a fun way to share them. We worked with our construction class at CEC to make our own chalkboard complete with our logo, and installed it in our cafeteria. We have been changing up the 6-word memoirs every week.
Beyond the creation of our own chalkboard, our art projects included a tile mosaic mural and a painted mural in our building. The tile mural was the most fun! We invited everyone in our community to paint a 4’’x4’’ tile. We even included senior citizens at the local assisted living center we visited as well as preschool students. Administrators and students alike gathered to paint images, quotes, and patterns on their tiles. The finished product transformed walls in our school into bright, lasting murals of hope and inspiration created by many different perspectives from our community. While the finished product is something to admire, the process was the most beautiful part. There were large, diverse groups of people who didn’t normally hang out together gathered around tables covered in paint and brushes laughing and creating memories together – something we’ll never forget. We also worked with the Anime Club at our school to plan and paint a large mural in our school that symbolizes our connectedness. More art projects like these are in the works!
One of the most sustainable parts of our solution is the peer mentoring program we are planning for our school in partnership with the YESS Institute. We have already worked with our school’s National Honor Society chapter to recruit junior and senior mentors who are willing to pass some of their success to freshman students in need of a helping hand. The YESS Institute encourages partnerships between mentors and mentees built on fun and trust before a strong focus on academics. This works perfectly with our vision because it helps our freshmen transition into the challenges of high school without feeling helpless or isolated. With our mentors and mentees identified, we are moving forward with the implementation of our peer mentorship program in early March.