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Bear River students break down the walls of social isolation

Bear River students and teachers participate in the Breaking Down the Walls community- and team-building program Sept. 9, 10 and 11.
Submitted by Patti Ehlers |

Bear River High School students and teachers recently participated in a three-day community-building program, “Breaking Down the Walls,” to connect students from different cliques and social groups.

All students attended an assembly Sept. 9, followed by two more sessions on Sept. 10 and 11 that included some teachers and 300 students who were chosen from different social groups to participate in conversations one-on-one with each other, along with group and team-building exercises, said Bear River Principal Jim Nieto.

“It’s about making connections between students and teachers to get (them) to talk to people they usually don’t talk to or be open to people who might not be in their immediate small group,” said Nieto.



“We picked kids from mixed grades with mixed interests. We went through a process to identify kids from every different group on campus.”

Students attended an assembly the first day and the next two days broke into groups led by student leaders and facilitated by founder Phil Boyte.




Boyte said that the idea for the program began with a T-shirt he came across which said, “It’s hard to hate someone’s whose story you know,” according to the LearningForLiving.com website.

The idea to bring the program to Bear River derived from a student in a leadership class who had participated in it and mentioned it to Nevada Joint Union High School Assistant Superintendent Karen Suenram, Nieto said.

Nieto said he has seen social relations remain unchanged since his time as a student and that people in general have a tendency to socialize with similar people, which the program seeks to change.

“We tend as people to associate with people with the same interests. We might know them, but not step out of our comfort zone and say ‘Hey, how are you doing?’” Nieto said. “That was kind of the origin — to make us realize we have more in common than different and we’re all going through similar things.”

Boyte facilitated activities to make students realize their similarities, like having students raise their hands if they’ve lost a parent in the last five years or if they have a loved one with cancer, which helped students realize that everyone is going through problems and can be there for each other, Nieto said.

“It was amazing just to remind people that we’re all going through stuff,” he said. “As a society, we’ve gone through a lot with the economic crisis that has had an impact on kids and people who work here within the community. It’s a reminder that we’re here for each other, going through stuff together and need to remember to be open and understanding and reach out to each other.”

Bear River senior Sidnee Andersen said she was really glad she was able to be a part of the program

“It really changed my perspective on how I look at people in general,” she said. “In this game ‘Cross the Line,’ (Boyte) asked different questions and different people crossed the lines for things that happened in their own lives, and it gave me respect for people,” she said.

Andersen said she does not usually reach out to people outside her social circle, but after the experience the whole school seemed to have a friendlier atmosphere.

“It showed me things are going on in other people’s lives and it’s good to be there and support others,” she said. “There’s more people saying hi to each other, smiling at each other, things like that. It’s awesome to see that at our small, cliquey school.”

Visit learningforliving.com/breaking-down-the-walls for information.

To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email jterman@theunion.com or call 530-477-4230.


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