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Breaking Down the Walls at PEN

by Nina Li

Breaking Down the Walls at PEN
Peninsula logo.100
• New program helps students cope with problems in a group setting.
High school is a time when students showcase their abilities, make new friends and prepare for their future.

Along the way, it is hard to read behind the masks these students wear as they navigate through campus.
When the program called Breaking Down the Walls was introduced to students during an assembly, many were hesitant to sign up and disregarded the activity.
When Phil Boyte, founder of the program, held another assembly to demonstrate the different activities that would take place, students began to sign up.
Breaking Down the Walls is a comprehensive program that helps bring students together and unify them in the face of their own problems to create a more welcoming and supportive campus atmosphere.
Three days were dedicated to those who wanted to participate and spanned over the whole school day from first period to sixth. About 100 students were chosen to facilitate the other students as they attended the event.
These facilitators were trained for a day on how to lead the others in various activates and discussions. In the end, there were more than 600 students who participated. pen.walls
“I really think Breaking Down the Walls was one of the best things I experienced at school,” said facilitator Elleen Kim. “It was very inspiring to learn about all the stories of these students who I pass every day at school but never got the chance to talk to or understand. The environment inside the room was really supportive and respectful. I think the students who participated made a lot of new and lasting friendships and that they feel safer and happier to come to school every day. It helped all of us see how many kind people we have at Peninsula.”
The event began with various ice-breakers and getting to know each other, including games and quick sit downs with partners. During that time, students learned what was on their partners’ bucket lists, their childhood, and their current life.
“Being a part of this event was one of the best decisions I have ever made,” said Ari Cho.
“I think it’s funny how it’s much easier to open up to a stranger who is willing to listen than it is to open up to your closest friends. I told things to my partner that I did not even tell my best friend. I think Breaking Down the walls was really a great way for me to listen to the stories of those who go through the same troubles that I do,” Cho said.
After lunch, students participated in an activity called “Crossing the Line”. This was a very emotional activity where the main facilitator, Freddie Silveria, asked various questions ranging from light to serious.
If a student answered that they have experienced what he asked, they stepped to a certain point and would be able to see others who also stepped forward.

Some of the questions were:
“Have you ever lost a family member?” “Have your parents ever disappointed you?”
“Have you ever physically hurt yourself?”
And “Have you ever been depressed?”
The questions were personal and many students stepped forward and found that they were not alone.
“’Cross the Line” showed everyone that there were other people going through the same problems that they are going through,” said facilitator Brady Sedillos.
“We were all there to support and help each other,  and I think that the students who participated feel more able to open up to their peers and express their feelings and opinions on campus,” said Sedillos
The willingness of the students to share their details of their lives to about 200 people who they might have never seen before and bond with those who have also experienced the same things is Breaking Down the Wall’s purpose and mission.
“I always went through these kinds of activities at leadership camps during the summer but having it at school, and seeing personal friends cross the line was surprising and painful to watch,” said facilitator Christina An.
“As a leader, it was amazing to watch your whole group come together. I could see that we were all from different grades and social circles but the positive, encouraging interactions was really heart-warming. I hope that the participating students felt safe and heard during the activity. It would be awesome if each person made at least one new friend. Hopefully, everyone does not shy away from saying hello to each other in the hallways,” said An
While all of the student facilitators were leading their small groups, the main speaker was Freddie Silveria. Silveria is a speaker who works for Breaking Down the Walls and loves hearing the stories students share with each other.
“Once students and staff get real about being people they learn they are more similar than different,” Silveria said.
“I have also learned students can make positive changes in their communities quicker than most. Kindness and simpling saying “Hi!” to people when you walk by them can drastically improve the culture of a school. I have felt loneliness. I have gone home when I was a kid and told my mom I do not have any friends. I know the power of this program to help kids and staff to meet new people. It is powerful how it connects sometimes strangers,” said Silveria.
Not only did students participate, but teachers and counselors did as well. In the gym, they were not teachers or administrators, they were there with the students as equals.
“As a counselor, you understand that students deal with many issues,” said counselor Christine Lopez.
“When I was there, I just felt so proud that there were many students who felt comfortable enough and courageous enough to be able to share their personal struggles. I think Breaking Down the Walls gave the students and adults a newfound respect for the people around them. You do not have to be friends with everybody at this high school, but I think it allowed people to understand that everybody has a story, and everybody who walks on this campus walks with some sort of struggle,” Lopez said.
This was the first time that Peninsula has been a part of Breaking Down the Walls, and from the reaction of the students who attended, it will not be the last. Breaking Down the Walls opened the gates for a more empathetic campus, and it opened the hearts of all of the students.
“This program allows everyone to carry themselves a little bit more confidently since people were able to share in a very quiet way what their experiences were,” Lopez said. “They were able to feel more comfortable and accepted on this campus, which I think is an amazing gift to give.”

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