Program encourages caring at Placer High

Assembly works to show students issues, similarities
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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Placer High School students are working on breaking down walls of intolerance this week. Seniors Addie Pass and Mackenzie McGown helped bring the Breaking Down the Walls program to the school as part of their senior projects. “I’m really excited,” McGown said. “I was surprised. I actually thought we weren’t going to raise enough money to bring it this year. I’m really excited we will get to be there in our senior year.” To bring the program to the school, Pass said she raised about $3,000. Principal Peter Efstathiu said about $4,100 was raised in total to bring Breaking Down the Walls to Placer High for three days. Breaking Down the Walls is an international program founded by Meadow Vista resident Phil Boyte in 1992. Boyte said the program helps teens learn about each other’s similarities and accept each other’s differences. The student body was broken in half Wednesday morning, and each group attended one of two assemblies where Boyte served as a motivational speaker. During the assemblies Boyte told a number of true stories, which former students had told him about the issues they were dealing with in their lives. Boyte also conducted activities to help point out similarities the students at Placer High have. Boyte asked the students to think about the serious issues their peers could be facing currently and how these issues could be affecting their lives. “Do you guys understand in the last 30 days someone in your school found out their parents are getting a divorce?” Boyte asked. “Do you know in the last four months someone in this audience had to go to the funeral of someone that was close to them?” Boyte asked students to raise their hands if they had experienced several things: a parent dying, a brother or sister dying, a loved one learning they had cancer and knowing someone who might die before the end of the school year. For each of the scenarios, a number of students throughout the second assembly’s crowd raised their hands. Boyte asked students to take note of who had experienced these issues. Boyte also had students laughing throughout the assembly with jokes and situations they could relate to, like a seventh-grade relationship only lasting two hours and high school female friends being ecstatic to see each other after only 20 minutes of being apart. Boyte told students the program’s purpose was to create a more understanding campus. “How cool would it be at Placer High if we created a place where people care?” he asked. “The one thing I have learned about you guys is you hate when someone disses you. You know who I have seen disrespect high school people the most? Other high school people.” Senior Hannah Beckley, 17, said she enjoyed the assembly. “I just thought he had a lot of good insight about a lot of problems high school students go through,” Beckley said. “I just think it was really good he let a lot of people be aware of a lot of problems people are going through.” Senior Mai Vu, 18, said she also thought Boyte opened up the students’ eyes to issues their peers might be facing. “It just made us realize we need to try to understand and help them and just be nice to them on a day-to-day basis,” Vu said. Boyte said after the assembly he thought the Placer High crowd was awesome, and he was already getting reactions from the teens, including one male student. “He said, ‘So many of the things you talked about are things I’m dealing with,’” Boyte said. Senior Taylor Sykora, 18, said he enjoyed Boyte’s talk and hoped students would take something away from it, even something as small as saying “Hi” to more people in the hall. Senior Jake Tackitt, 17, said the assembly made him consider his own interactions on campus. “I thought it was pretty inspirational and really made me think about being nicer to everyone and just kind of the respect level around the school,” Tackitt said. Thursday and Friday 300 teens recommended by Pass, McGown, counselors and various teachers are scheduled to participate in workshops building on Boyte’s message of understanding and kindness. Fifty student leaders from the campus will conduct the workshops. “The students get put into groups of eight people ranging from freshman to senior,” McGown said. “They start out just getting to know each other and then they start to find things they have in common. It’s just like breaking down their walls … so everyone’s not just sticking to themselves anymore, and it’s teaching tolerance in a way.” Pass said she learned a lot in the process of bringing the program to the school. “There were a lot of obstacles to go through, but we couldn’t give up, because it’s our project,” she said. Reach Bridget Jones at ------------------------------------------------------- Breaking Down the Walls What: An international program to promote understanding and kindness in teenagers. Website: