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Verde Magazine

Verde Magazine

Verde Magazine

Breaking down the walls: Student event met with mixed reaction

Kensie Pao
COMMUNITY BUILDING – Educator and head of Breaking Down the Walls Jason Jedamski gives a speech to a group of students. “It was very, very much a community building experience,” said Palo Alto High School sophomore Max Soparkar.

“It’s hard to hate someone whose story you know.”

From Jan. 23 to Jan. 25, Breaking Down the Walls helped over 500 Palo Alto High School students learn those stories. This motto drove the program, which was run by educator Jason Jedamski of the Ignite2Unite organization, which aims to connect people on school campuses.

Around 30 years ago, Phil Boyte, the creator of the Breaking Down the Walls program, wanted to bring a community together after their school suffered a school shooting.

“They [the community] wanted to do something that would bring the students together,” Jedamski said. “The next year, another school wanted to do something similar.”

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Last school year, Jedamski was invited to Paly to lead 4A, a smaller program that focused on school spirit. According to Principal Brent Kline, the program left a significant positive effect on the student section culture during sports games. Because of this impact, Kline contacted Jedamski to lead another program for this school year.

“I felt it was important to open up this opportunity for more students than just 100 to be able to provide you all [Paly students] with opportunities to experience a community, to build community, and to share and learn other people’s stories outside the confines of your classroom,” Kline said.

Many students were initially doubtful about participating in BDTW. Skeptics compared it to another program, Challenge Day, that former Frank S. Greene Jr. Middle School students experienced.

Junior and Greene Middle alumna Lillian Chen, who participated in Challenge Day in seventh grade, said that the program was too emotional for middle schoolers.

“The whole day felt inorganic because I felt forced to share my story and whatever I was going through at the time,” Chen said. “In the end, everyone was crying and it was an odd experience to have.”

To combat this notion, Kline and the Paly administration made sure to emphasize that Breaking Down the Walls would be different from Challenge Day by broadcasting this information on an InFocus broadcast on Jan. 16.

“It is absolutely not like Challenge Day,” Kline told the audience. “There are no tissues. There are no tears. We don’t
want you to talk about your deepest fears.”

“Our goal is not so much to bring a lot of intensity emotionally to a program.”

— Jason Jedamski, educator

A large part of the day, however, included an activity called “Crossing the Line,” where students were lined up and asked to answer a set of questions and participants stepped forward if the prompt applied to them. The questions started less emotional: “Cross the line if you have your driver’s permit.” As the activity continued, the questions became more serious, with prompts such as “Cross the line if one of your parents has passed away.” Students were given the choice to respond to the prompt.

This activity was also part of Challenge Day, where many emotional questions were asked.

Kline said he believes that the activity at BDTW was less emotionally taxing than the version at Challenge Day.

“I think it was more connected to your experiences at school versus you as your own identity and your experiences individually,” Kline said about the difference between the two events.

Jedamski said the BDTW program questions are different from the questions posed at programs like Challenge Day because BDTW prioritizes sharing stories rather than sharing heavy emotions between students.

“Our goal is not so much to bring a lot of intensity emotionally to a program,” Jedamski said. “There might be a couple things we do that kids may have some feelings come up with, but that’s not our goal.”

Kline said that his personal goal for student participation in the program was getting 1,000 students signed up in total for BDTW. However, he said that only about 500 students signed up.

“I thought it would just take a matter of hours and we’d have 1,000 students doing it,” Kline said. “It wasn’t that way at all, but was the reverse and we almost had to convince students that this would be a good opportunity. And I just don’t think that Paly has done [enough] of these opportunities to know that it could also be a value added … for your educational experience.”

Despite this, many students wanted to participate in BDTW. Junior Chloe Amos said she was curious about the program and wanted to experience the opportunity to meet new people.

“I just thought it’d be an interesting experience just to meet a lot of new people and have conversations that aren’t in an academic setting,” Amos said. “I heard people talking about how it would be similar to Challenge Day and how they didn’t like it [Challenge Day], but I was really curious.”

Senior Ella Bishop, a student leader at BDTW, said a reason why she signed up for the event was because of her experience with 4A last year.

“Already knowing him [Jedamski] and his organization coming back, I wanted to do it again,” Bishop said. “A lot of my friends had signed up for it, so that was a part of the motivation.”

While many students signed up voluntarily, others were required to participate as part of their classes. The Social Justice Path-
way seniors participated as a cohort and non-seniors in the Social Justice Pathway were offered extra credit to sign up.

Additionally, Associated Student Body members were required to get at least 10 people to sign up as part of their grade, ac-
cording to freshman and ASB member Paul Wang.

“I thought it would just take a matter of hours and we’d have 1,000 students doing it.”

— Brent Kline, principal

Regardless of only getting 500 out of the anticipated 1,000 students to sign up, Kline said that the event was a success in
his eyes.

“I think we nailed it on what you got out of it,” Kline said.

When Bishop participated in the program on Jan. 24, she said she felt as though some students were not participating in the activities, making her job as a student leader difficult.

“There were definitely other times where individuals weren’t as engaged, which was disappointing, but in a way a little expected whenever you have events like this,” Bishop said.

But sophomore Max Soparkar, who attended BDTW, said it was a positive experience.

“I think everybody should do it [BDTW],” Soparkar said. “It really brought the community together.”

Jedamski agrees with him on that.

“We just really want [students] to understand that they have a lot more in common than they do different with the people on their campus,” he said.