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DSEF funds Challenge Success Initiative

This year marks the fourth year that the Dover Sherborn Education Fund (DSEF) has funded the Dover-Sherborn Regional Schools participation in the Challenge Success Initiative for grades K-12. The highly-lauded, nationwide program, based out of Stanford University’s School of Education, provides families and schools with the practical, research-based tools they need to create a more balanced and academically fulfilling life for children. The initiative was undertaken based on recommendations from the DS Regional School Improvement Plan and the School Council Surveys, both of which identified student stress and anxiety as a priority issue to be addressed.

The primary goal of Challenge Success is to help students and the larger Dover Sherborn community create better balance in their lives by reducing unhealthy pressures and demands, promoting a broader definition of success, and building resilience. The program accomplishes these outcomes by implementing proven strategies for effective change, drawing from research data as well as best practices from other schools.

“Challenge Success is an exceptional example of the types of high quality, high impact programs that DSEF funds. We are grateful for the continuing support of our donors that enables us to bring this program to our district,” said Kristina Grace, DSEF co-president.

Based on the original recommendations and survey process, several ongoing priority areas were identified, including assessing homework practices, balancing sports and extracurricular activities, offering mindfulness training, and managing the stress of the college admissions process. In addition to these initial ongoing priorities, DS Challenge Success has identified more recent areas of focus that serve to guide programming. Examples include evaluating assessments and project-based learning; incorporating student voices; improving climate of care; building resilience; and exploring the impact of screen time, social media and technology. 

This combination of long-term and short-term priorities allows the district to see the big picture, but remain flexible and responsive to specific issues as they arise.

"As a school community, we have pushed ourselves to consider the whole child when making decisions about our educational program and our students have been the beneficiaries,” said Andrew Keough, Superintendent of Dover Sherborn Regional Schools. 

The Stanford Survey of Adolescent School Experiences, which measures students’ perspectives in many areas, was first administered to all DS students in grades 6-12 prior to the launch of the Challenge Success program and provides a baseline from which to measure the initiative’s results. The survey was repeated in 2017 with responses showing that overall levels of stress and academic worry have decreased during the course of the program. An overview of the high school survey results will be shared with the DS community in the near term, but key findings indicate that school stress levels have decreased across all grades surveyed, with tenth graders experiencing the biggest drop. Academic worry also decreased across the board, with eleventh graders reporting the largest improvement. Further, there was a significant decrease in the number of students who reported “always or often” feeling stressed by schoolwork.

“It is very gratifying to see the progress that our partnership with Challenge Success has achieved. The comparative data from the two surveys will be used to access the impact of Challenge Success and to help us identify priorities going forward,” said Ellen Chagnon, Co-Chair of Dover Sherborn’s Challenge Success initiative.

“Essentially when we are considering potential changes to our curriculum, our culture and our protocols, we consider how will this be beneficial to our students through the Challenge Success lens. We are constantly looking at ways to enhance our programming without adding layers of stress to our students and staff,” said John Smith, DSHS Headmaster. 

“The Challenge Success program acts as a breath of fresh air within our extremely focused school environment. The program itself helps to build in the so needed PDF time (play time, down time, and family time) that every student needs in order to find the necessary balance in their day,” said Hannah Thompson, a member of the Challenge Success Student Advisory Board. “From the ‘No Homework Vacation’ over Thanksgiving to everyday examples in the classroom, Challenge Success has begun to filter down to the student level in a very positive way.”

Dover Sherborn was the first East Coast school district to partner with Challenge Success. Since then, more Boston-area schools have followed its lead. Challenge Success has worked with more than 150 schools since 2003.

Highlights of the DS Challenge Success programming include presentations by Denise Pope, Katie Greer, Jessica Lahey, Robert Brooks, Larry Cohen, Rick Irving, and John O’Sullivan; teacher/parent forums; screening of the award-winning “Screenagers” documentary; modifications to scheduling of sports and extra curricular activities, as well as DSHS mid-year exams; initiation of homework-free weekends; mindfulness training for faculty, staff and students; formation of CS book discussion groups for all schools; and Senior DS administration participation in the Challenge Success Leadership Training Institute at Stanford University.

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