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Paly hosts Breaking Down the Walls

Breaking Down the Walls program aims to foster dialogue, sparks conversation, controversy
Senior+Lucianna+Peralta+talks+with+her+peers+at+Breaking+Down+the+Walls.+%E2%80%9CIt+was+really+nice+to+connect+with+people+who+I+never+would+have+talked+to%2C+and+then+get+friends+that+you+would+never%2C+never+expect%2C+Freshman+Clara+Manolache+said.
Alex Isayama
Senior Lucianna Peralta talks with her peers at Breaking Down the Walls. “It was really nice to connect with people who I never would have talked to, and then get friends that you would never, never expect,” Freshman Clara Manolache said.

In efforts to help improve campus culture and encourage dialogue between students, Breaking Down the Walls, an event sponsored by Ignite2Unite, took place during the school day from Jan. 23 to 25 in the Peery Center.

According to Ignite2Unite’s website, BDTW aims to create a safe environment for students to build empathy and understanding through a “play, trust, learn” model.

Principal Brent Kline said the event was a place for students to put aside their differences and create connections.

“I wanted to give the students of Palo Alto an opportunity to learn more about who they are and what they can bring to our school,” Kline said. “It was a chance to connect and to stop, pause and find out more about your peers.”

Junior Ethan Wang, a student leader for the event, said BDTW gave students the chance to see their peers in a different light and recognize shared experiences.

“The students in our school community are more alike than you may think,” Wang said. “You’re not alone in certain situations.”

Junior Akiva Okumoto-Forrester, who attended BDTW, said the interactive activities at the event were structured to cultivate bonds within the student body.

“I (enjoyed) the team-building activities because it was competitive, and I think competitions are (important) to make deeper relationships,” Okumoto-Forrester said.

Freshman Clara Manolache, who also attended the event, said she enjoyed the chance to meet new people.

“My favorite part was meeting all the people because you had deep conversations with them,” Manolache said. “It was really nice to connect with people who I never would have talked to, and then get friends that you would never, never expect.”

However, not all students felt like their expectations of the event were met.

A Social Justice Pathway senior, who asked to remain anonymous because of potential backlash from teachers and administrators, said she was required to attend the event as a part of her grade.

“The only reason I did it was because I had to do it,” she said. “I wouldn’t have done it otherwise.”

SJP History teacher Cait Drewes said the SJP staff team for seniors saw the event as an opportunity for students to engage in more communal activities.

“We are piloting a new community-based grading category, and we are trying it out with our second semester seniors and sort of seeing how it works out,” Drewes said.

The anonymous senior, though, said many students were repeatedly encouraged to sign up, which decreased the appeal of the activity.

“(Administration) made it seem like something that wouldn’t be fun,” she said. “People had to do it, so then you got people who didn’t want to be there.”

An ASB member, who asked to remain anonymous also because of potential backlash from teachers and administrators, said the presentation of the event to the ASB class was rushed and unclear.

“Part of ASB is having (good) communication with the students and helping the staff and admin when (we) need to,” the ASB member said. “It would have been nice if we had more warning or expectations for the (event).”

This senior was also surprised that every member of ASB needed to recruit 10 students to attend the event as part of their grade.

“I think it was surprising that this assignment was made,” they said. “At first, all the students were stressing about it. Overall, it worked out pretty well, and ASB ended up recruiting a decent number of students to attend.”

Manolache said despite being told BDTW would not resemble Challenge Day, it ultimately did. Challenge Day is an event where students share emotional experiences with one another. Manolache said toward the end of the day, BDTW contained a “Cross the Line” activity where students step across a line drawn on the ground when an experience applies to them.

“It was the exact same,” Manolache said.  “You cross the line, then compliment or apologize to your peers.”

Despite these student concerns,  Kline said the event was an overall success.

“I’ve heard tons of positive comments from students day after day,” Kline said. “I think the more we connect, the stronger and more efficient we can be as (a community).”

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Meryem Orazova, Staff Writer
Alex Isayama, Staff Writer
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