Teacher Kevin Landski helped gather 83 students for one of the most powerful and high-energy days of their young lives.

The Dallas Ranch Middle School group was part of the national Challenge Day. The goals, according to a participation letter, "are to increase personal power and self-esteem, to shift dangerous peer pressure to positive peer support, and to eliminate the acceptability of teasing, violence and all forms of oppression." The event addressed violence, teasing, social oppression, racism, harassment, conflict management, suicide, peer pressure, alcohol and drugs.

Impressed with how well the students came together for this event two years ago, Landski wanted to be part of it again. He spearheaded the big event with fellow teacher Keith Barlow.

"He's fantastic." "I thought it went very well," Landski said. "We had a group of incredibly enthusiastic and caring adults who made all students feel comfortable enough to share their personal stories."

Landski is especially grateful for those "willingly sharing so much of themselves. Without fully giving of themselves, the day would not have been possible."

The primary focus was on seventh-graders. The hope is they "apply what they have learned for the remainder of the school year and the following year as eighth-graders to build community here at Dallas Ranch."


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The six-hour day is packed with powerful moments, including the "Cross the Line" activity, when all were asked questions like, "Have you ever been bullied by someone in this room?" and "Have you had one or both of your parents die?" "If your answer was yes, then you were to cross the line the entire group was on and walk to a parallel line about 10 feet away and face the remaining group," he said. "It was all done in silence, with the presenter offering words of encouragement and clarification. What was powerful was seeing that you weren't alone for something you thought only you had experienced."

Landski thinks Challenge Days is important as it helps break down barriers and bonds students from various "cliques."

"(It showed) we are all connected in more ways than we thought possible. Several students made public apologies to each other and also made pledges of how they would treat that person in the future."

LEARN AND GROW: Teacher Katie Bartling is looking for a fresh twist on teaching. Fresh -- as in garden fresh.

But to achieve that, she's counting on donations to her Adams Middle School garden project. The Brentwood teacher posted her plan on the Donors Choose website.

"Most of my students have not had the farm-to-table experience. A garden would allow them to know where their food comes from," she wrote. "Most of my families have two working parents. My students are fun and outgoing, they get excited over new learning experiences. They are willing to try anything. They are very concerned and aware about what is happening to our planet; however, most of them feel stuck on what they can do."

She added that a school garden would take her students out of the class and into the garden, where they could learn about composting, and literally "see the fruits of their labors grow."

Bartling thinks the entire school could benefit from an on-site garden -- from the "home-ec teacher using the veggies in her class to the science teachers dissecting seeds."

For more information, call 925-513-6450 or visit http://www.donorschoose.org

CONGRATS, COACH: Liberty High School's Jeff Walters was a finalist in the Positive Coaching Alliance.

According to a news release, the program is a national nonprofit "working to provide all youth and high school athletes a positive, character-building youth sports experience." From the field of 75 finalists, the Double-Goal Coach honors are given to 25 youth and high school sports coaches "who embody the ideals of striving to win while also pursuing the even more important goal of teaching life lessons through sports." The awards are presented by MaxPreps.

Pat Walsh, Liberty principal said: "He is a talented educator, an excellent coach and a wonderful person. We are very proud of his accomplishment."

Walters, the Brentwood school's football coach, was chosen from a field of more than 1,700 nominees. For more information, visit http://positivecoach.org/ PANTHER

COUNTRY REVAMP: Antioch High School was given big support with the passing of the Measure B bond in 2012.

As a thank you for the investment, Principal Louie Rocha will host an event to share renovation details of the 58-year-old school.

Set from 9 a.m. to noon March 22 and held in the school's Beede Auditorium (700 West 18th St.), the program will include a presentation from HKIT Architects of the planned modifications taking place over the next four years. In addition, residents can visit the school's academies, including engineering, environmental, media and technology, leadership and public service.

Teachers and students will be on hand to answer questions and share completed projects. Rocha and Superintendent Don Gill will make the opening remarks.

For more information, call 925-779-7550.

If you have school news to share, contact Trine Gallegos at trineg@att.net. Note: Trine also does outreach for Antioch High.