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Walls can come down

What does Phil Boyte, professional speaker and founder of Learning for Living, expect to teach middle school student by dropping eggs from a 15-foot high balcony?

Teamwork, as the students are forced to think fast and work together to devise ways to catch the eggs and stop them from smashing on the ground below.



It is one of the several exercises students do as a part of “Breaking Down the Walls,” a program that teaches middle and high school students how to connect better with their peers.

According to Boyte, the program addresses the issues of indifference, bullying, and segregation.




From March 22-24, the program was held at Seven Hills Middle School, involving students, teachers and parents. The main aim of the program according to Boyte is to “get kids to connect with kids they wouldn’t normally talk to.”

“They are team-building projects,” Boyte said. “It causes kids to interact with each other and say, ‘Oh you’re cool! I didn’t know you.”

Jessie Weinberger, a teacher at Del Oro High School whose daughter is an eighth grader at Seven Hills, proposed the idea to host the program to Joe Limov, principal of Seven Hills.

“Del Oro High School has brought ‘Breaking Down the Walls’ twice to the student body and I participated in it this year for the first time and I saw the impact it had on student relationships,” Weinberger said. “I noticed students were less likely to judge each other based on their clothing, where they came from, or where they lived, or how much money they had.

“When I saw that students had an opportunity to talk to each other ” kids they would not normally talk to ” they came to understand that the kids weren’t who they had originally judged them to be.”

The motto of the program is that it’s hard to hate someone who’s story you know, Weinberger said.

“One of (the issues the program address) is that kids have interactions that can have negative outcomes like disagreements about who gets to use the basketball (court), who gets to stand first in line for lunch,” Limov said. “We want to instill in them the idea that care and concern comes first on campus.”

Limov believes that given the right tools, students can build friendships instead of barriers.

“We’re being very proactive in addressing mild concerns before they become major concerns,” he said. “The mild concerns are kids sometimes verbally putting others down, not respecting others’ physical space, and not supporting each other’s emotional needs.”

Weinberger feels the program helps students become more aware of how their behavior affects students around them.

“People don’t understand how devastating the subtle insults, the put-downs, the judging ” people don’t realize how damaging it can be to another kid,” she said. “Whether someone is doing the bullying or passively standing by and watching, both the things have an impact on the experience of the person being bullied.

“I think the program helps kids realize that they don’t have to be mean to other people and it teaches some kids that they have a right to speak out for themselves and other people.”

Since it’s inception in the early ’90s, Boyte ” who’s worked on school culture for two decades ” has conducted “Breaking Down the Walls” program in several states and also in Canada. Most of the workshops have been conducted in Oregon, Washington, Colorado and California, Boyte said.

Seven Hills paid an amount of $5,250 to bring the program to school. Weinberger and Limov helped raise the money.

The success of the program is evaluated at the end of the day, Boyte said. Some schools also do an evaluation weeks and months later. The final outcome of the program, however, is supposed to be long-term, Weinberger said.

“If we help children to reflect on their behavior and on who they are in the world and in school,” she said, “they’ll take that into the community as better people.”


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