NEW YORK – Jocks, nerds, burnouts and stoners: The names may vary, but students at almost every high school know the labels.
Each episode focuses on a different school, where students go through a program called Challenge Day. They share experiences with each other in exercises designed to cut down on bullying and gossiping.
The cameras follow five students before, during and after the program. One self-professed jokester realizes how much his words hurt when he picks on an overweight student. Classmates are surprised when they hear a popular cheerleader talk about how she doesn’t feel pretty or cool enough.
Another student, 18-year-old Leikin Poppino, attended Challenge Day last year at Freedom High School in Oakley, Calif., and said it works.
“It was such a positive experience,” said Poppino. “It changed people for the better.”
But a big question is whether the change lasts.
Freedom High had a “miraculous change” for about a week after the program, Poppino said. After that, the responsibility fell on those kids who took part to keep the momentum going.
“There would be moments when somebody would say something in class and it would be the kid who went through Challenge Day to say, ‘Hey, you shouldn’t say that or do that.'”
Students are surprisingly in touch with their emotions, said Sela Gaglia, who has worked for Challenge Day for 11 years.
Even when students are resistant, once they understand that the Challenge Day leaders are genuinely concerned, “the walls come down,” Gaglia said.
Gaglia is optimistic about the impact the show could have on viewers and believes it will give hope to students who “really do believe that they’re alone.”
‘If You Really Knew Me’ airs Tuesdays at 11 p.m. Eastern.
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