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Breaking Down the Walls Returns to Acalanes

By Katrina Ortman, Staff Writer

// Walking into school, many students expected to attend a program designed to encourage citizenship and community. What they did not expect were the jump roping, the “would-you-rathers,” and many other childhood games along with new connections formed along the way.
Stu Cabe led almost 600 sophomore and juniors in Breaking Down the Walls (BDTW), an all-day workshop spanning Jan. 22-23 in the Acalanes big gym. BDTW was created to strengthen positive student and staff cultures in high schools across the country, and Acalanes students already feel the impact.
“It’s a good refresher and reminder that everyone is going through things, and you should treat everyone with respect no matter what you first think about them,” sophomore Gabriel Aguilar said.
Leadership teacher Katherine Walton first learned about BDTW when San Ramon Valley, Monte Vista, and other neighboring high schools ran the program with very positive feedback. After running a successful, smaller workshop in the 2018-2019 school year, Walton worked with Assistant Principal Andrea Powers and other administration members to organize a more comprehensive program for this year.
“One hundred percent of the feedback forms last year were very positive in terms of community and relationships and culture-building, which is the goal of the program. We really wanted to do it with all sophomores and juniors,” Walton said.
Some students chose to opt-out of the workshop as they did not want to miss valuable class time. Nevertheless, students who attended BDTW agreed that the experience was completely worthwhile.
“The connections that you start to build and some of the things we learned are helpful life skills. For example, if you learn how to have a good handshake, you can make a good impression on people and potentially land a job,” junior Drew Lashinsky said.
Along with practicing handshakes, students played games such as tag and two truths and a lie, created movie-night lineups and road trip playlists, and discussed their lives outside of school.
The activities put students out of their comfort zones into what Cabe describes as “learning zones.” They formed new friendships and learned about their peers’ different perspectives and stories.
BDTW was only made available to sophomores and juniors, but some students expressed that it would be beneficial to include freshmen in the workshop.
“Freshman year is a turning point in their lives, and I think at that point in life, it’s essential to understand how to spread kindness,” junior Ellen Bussey said.
Other students disagreed, stating that freshmen lack the level of maturity required to have difficult discussions about inclusion and social differences.
Additionally, BDTW is an expensive program to run, and the addition of another grade would make gathering funds difficult. This year, the Acalanes Parents Club and ASB were instrumental in funding the program, but Walton predicts that the next time Acalanes runs BDTW will be in the 2021-2022 school year.
In the meantime, students will take the lessons they learned and use them to make the Acalanes community a more inclusive and welcoming place.
“Now I know that everyone has different experiences, and it’s not what you see on the outside. You don’t know their entire background and history, so you shouldn’t judge,” junior Sabrina Alesna said.

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