At a leadership camp during the summer, Krista Stocke participated in a Breaking Down the Walls activity with about 120 other students, mostly strangers to her. “By the end of the day, we considered each other family,” she said. “I’m closer with them than kids I’ve known since kindergarten.”The 17-year-old senior wanted to share that experience with her classmates at Carson High School, so she brought the program in as part of her senior project. She recruited 20 students to serve as group leaders then relied on teachers to recommend 100 participants from a broad spectrum of backgrounds. With the help of facilitator Rochelle Whellams, the leaders trained Monday night then met with the group Tuesday. During the day-long process, students started out playing games and getting to know one another. Then they progressed into sharing more intimate details of their lives during an activity known as “crossing the line,” in which they are asked to step across a line if they answer affirmatively to questions such as, “Do you come from divorced parents?” or “Do you know anyone who has committed suicide?”“They get to share parts of their story nonverbally,” Whellams said. “We start to treat each other with more kindness knowing we each have a story — sometimes positive, sometimes rough stuff.”She said participation is always voluntary, students aren’t required to reveal more than what they’re comfortable with. However, she said, the more they share, the more they begin to understand one another. “The whole purpose is to shift the culture in the school,” Whellams said. The day ended with students breaking into smaller groups to discuss what they had learned and experienced. “Peers share with peers,” Whellams said. “They’re practicing what they need to do out there. Share with each other.”Stocke is hopeful the students who went through the process will inspire a change in the entire school. “I hope that they show everybody the judgment needs to stop,” she said. “I don’t see a lot of physical bullying, but I do see isolated kids who are never with anyone. If people are comfortable with themselves, maybe they’ll go over and sit with them.”Whellams said the program has the power to transform. “I’ve seen it,” she said.
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