LCHS Challenge Success Set to Confront Student Pressure

Trying to get through school under the pressure of teenage social norms, good grades, high test scores and multiple extracurricular activities, all with the aim of gaining acceptance to a top-tier college, can feel a little like Sisyphus rolling a boulder uphill for La Cañada Unified School District students.
“LCHS is a very competitive school,” said Nicole Johnson, a 17-year-old senior. “We take pride in our grades and all of that. But it gets to the point where we’re like enemies. It’s not a very healthy environment. That’s why I really like Challenge Success. Because I want to create that community environment where we’re all trying to help each other and we can get there together.”
Johnson is a senior director of the committee for the Challenge Success: Building Your Path who is putting the event together for its second year. The program is a single-day event for students to learn from different professionals, who showcase their careers and educational paths. The idea is to challenge how students define success.
The event for 6th through 12th graders and their parents is scheduled to take place from 9 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. on Oct. 20 in the LCHS auditorium.
The purpose of the event is for students to see that success is defined over the course of one’s lifetime and is not related to a grade point average or other educational experiences, said James Cartnal, executive director of Pupil Programs and Services for the district.
“Our speakers are going to reflect a richness of experience,” Cartnal said.
Speakers scheduled to appear at the event are Emmy-winning actor and LCHS parent Courtney B. Vance for a morning keynote session and NASA JPL engineer MiMi Aung in the afternoon. Other speakers include state Sen. Anthony Portantino, Kai Ryssdal from National Public Radio and Jennifer Lee, chief creative officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios.
The event begins with a welcome session at 8:45 a.m. with a short, opening keynote session starting at 9 a.m. with Vance. General speaking sessions for attendees are 30 minutes. There will be a free small breakfast from 8-9 a.m. and lunch from Jersey Mike’s.
“We think it’s important primarily for the students to hear the message and see the alternate pathways to success,” said Jamie Lewsadder, chief technology officer for the district and a committee member. “If the parents are here, they can also promote that story. So it breaks down any misconceptions they might have. And it opens their eyes to other possibilities. What we’re really focusing on, I think as Jim (Cartnal) had been putting it, is showing that it’s not a linear pathway to success. The ups and downs, the twists and turns, are something everybody can experience and still find happiness.”
About 450 people attended the event last year, and about half of the speakers from that event have returned, said LCUSD governing board member and committee member Brent Kuszyk.
Kuszyk said last year’s keynote speaker, Chris Buck, an Academy Award winning motion picture director for “Frozen,” spoke about getting fired from an animation job. Additionally, Chairman and CEO of Warner Brothers Kevin Tsujihara discussed how he had experienced a failed business.
“I think those are good things for the kids to hear,” Kuszyk said.
Johnson said one of the reasons she is looking forward to the event is it challenges the notions of students having to follow certain guidelines set by other people on how to get into college and succeed in life.
“You’re not going to be successful in something you don’t want to do,” Johnson added.
Additionally, prior to the Challenge Success night, there will be a “Raising Healthy Children,” seminar as a part of the Family Learning Series events. The seminar will be given by Challenge Success co-founder Madeline Levine on Oct. 18, from 6:30-8 p.m. at the LCHS auditorium.
For more information, visit lchsspartans.net or email Cartnal at jcartnal@lcusd.net.

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