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Teens work to bring the teachings of tolerance

Program perfect in technology-driven world, principal says
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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A senior project could give Placer High School students a lesson in not passing judgment. Seniors Addie Pass and Mackenzie McGown are hoping to bring the program Breaking Down the Walls to the campus. Breaking Down the Walls is an international program founded by Meadow Vista resident Phil Boyte in 1992. It gives high school students the chance to learn more about each other and to accept differences that peers may have in their lives, Boyte said. “The ultimate goal is to make a high school campus a better place for people to be, to learn, to spend time together,” Boyte said. The program includes a school-wide assembly featuring a motivational speaker, three hours of training for students to become tolerance group leaders and several workshop days in which students gather in groups of 150 to further discuss topics of non-judgment. Pass’ senior project is focused on fundraising, which she is hoping to use to bring the program to Placer High. McGown is working on building a tolerance club on campus to tie in with Breaking Down the Walls. Pass said she was inspired to bring the program to the school after seeing a similar program on TV and learning about Breaking Down the Walls from her father. “Well first of all, there is this show on MTV called ‘If you really knew me,’ and I thought it was a good program, because it kind of unified the school together,” Pass said. “My dad teaches ROP at Del Oro (High School), and he told me about how two students of his did this for their senior project last year, and so that’s how I found out about it.” McGown was unavailable to speak about the project Wednesday due to an injury, but Pass said their partnership has been a vital part of the project. “Pretty much we have been doing the whole project as a joint project,” Pass said. “(McGown) is really reliable, and when we came up with this project, teachers had concerns about us doing this together … because they were afraid one of us might back out, but Mackenzie and I are really devoted to this project and we know that wouldn’t happen to us.” Placer High Principal Peter Efstathiu said the program helps students understand how to build a more positive environment at school. “You work with the students on how they view the campus,” Efstathiu said. “It symbolizes what we do in high school, what we should be doing, how we treat each other and how we should be treating each other.” Efstathiu said now that technology is such a huge part of students’ lives, peer judgment can hurt others almost immediately. “A rumor took a week to spread (in the past),” he said. “Now with Facebook and Myspace and all that kind of stuff, it takes a day.” Dave Horsey, superintendent of Placer Union High School District, said Placer High hosted the program for the first time about eight years ago when he was principal, and he thinks it is a great way for students to learn about each other’s lives. “I think that we have, in a high school of that size, a mirror image of the community … and the students are together for seven, eight hours a day,” Horsey said. “So, this program teaches the students to get along with students who have different values and beliefs, different backgrounds and cultures.” While the program probably won’t come to the campus until some time after the New Year, Pass said she and McGown are working daily on their projects. Pass said she is working with Horsey to get donations from local service organizations to fund the event. “We’ve gone through Auburn Rotary clubs,” she said. “Individual Rotary members have given us donations. We’ve gone to Friends of Placer High … and they are giving us an answer by the end of this month. We are talking about going to Lions Clubs and things like that.” The cost of the program is about $2,000 per day and Pass said she plans to keep fundraising past her senior board presentation in December. Pass said she thinks the programs offers a lot of lessons to the community in a world where kids sometimes resort to committing suicide because they are being bullied. “Honestly, I think a lot of kids are kind of going toward the wrong direction now,” she said. “I think that (the program) it’s … like a wakeup call. I’m excited to see the impact it has on people and see the kids react to the program.” Pass said she is learning her own lessons from the project. “I’m outgoing, but I used to stay behind and just let other people talk,” she said. “Mr. Horsey has taught me a lot about fundraising, to ask for a certain amount of money and just go for it. It’s taught me to be organized, because there’s a lot of planning. From my first time asking for money to my second time, I noticed a huge improvement in the way I presented things. I was really nervous (the first time) and the second time I was kind of more flowing.” Boyte said he is excited about the possibility of bringing the program back to Placer High. “I’m thrilled because I live here,” he said. “It’s always nice when I get to (hold it) in my own neighborhood.” Pass said she hopes to bring the program to Placer High so she can look back on her senior year with pride. “I wanted something to remember my senior by,” she said. “I didn’t want to be the type of person who would just do something easy (for a senior project). I wanted to have something memorable that would look good on my college application.” Makayla Ratcliff, 15, a sophomore at Placer High, said she thinks the program would be positive for the school. “I think it’s a good idea, because we don’t know about a lot of ethnic groups here, and we do bully,” Ratcliff said. “I feel like it will bring more of us together and we would be one big group.” Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com