DO assembly breaks down barriers

By: Kayla Luttringer, Special to the Loomis News
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High school is a tough place for many students who may fear being judged or laughed at. Del Oro High School students recently attended a 4-day assembly called Breaking Down the Walls, a nation-wide program that helps students understand their peers and teaches them not to judge others before knowing them. Abril Navarro was one of 80 student leaders who participated in the program. “Everyone was very open and compassionate towards each other. Although the program didn't affect everyone the same way, I’m certain that it made a positive impact on every group member that will last a lifetime,” Abril said. Stephanie White, Del Oro’s leadership teacher, said, “It is an incredible experience to see walls coming down between students from different groups and interests, and to get a better understanding of what our students are facing on a day-to-day basis.” White lauded two seniors – Brooke McDonough and Aubrey Schmidt – who “took breaking down the walls on as a senior project, and decided to do it anyways even when the senior projects were canceled.” Students weren’t required to attend the program, but over 800 students, ranging from freshman to seniors, participated. The program cost approximately $10,000 paid for by the Loomis Parents Club, Loomis Lions Club, principal’s fund, a car wash and a generous community member. It lasted from the start of school to the final dismissal bell, beginning with activities designed to get students familiar with each other. Speakers Phil Boyte and Mike Walsh introduced themselves and laughed along with the students at the mandated directions, which included introducing yourself and repeating phrases such as, “Where have you been all my life?” and “It’s your lucky day!” Each student was then paired with another student they didn’t know. Each pair of strangers shared their life stories with each other. After a few games and a new group of partners, students in the gym formed into small groups of seven to 10 – each lead by an upperclassman who had received additional training. More lighthearted games followed. Then came the serious stuff. Students lined up on both sides of the gym facing each other, standing on the sidelines. After a strict order not to talk, the speaker read out statements, such as, “Step across the line if you are left-handed,” or “Step across the line if you, or someone close to you, is suffering from depression,” or “If you or a loved one has ever been bullied because of your race.” The seriousness of the questions, coupled with the truthfulness of the participants, made a powerful impact. Many of the students were amazed at how many of their peers had more to their lives than just the faces they put on at school. Sophomore Maicy Schwartz said, “It showed me a lot about myself and how much courage other people had to step forward. I guess it just showed me how much bravery the school has.” Breaking Down the Walls brought a change that could be seen immediately in the way participants acted, and how they treated others. Students learned that they have a lot in common with those they see as flawless or subordinates. They also learned that no matter what their situation, they are never alone – many of those around them are quietly experiencing the same pains and fears. NOTE: Kayla Luttringer is a Del Oro High School sophomore.