Riverside Students Build Unity

ph: students in gym participate in event

On October 3 and 4, Riverside Jr/Sr High School students worked on a school-wide project – learning how to better relate to each other, support each other and build a stronger school community. The school organized the Breaking Down the Walls event for two days using Oregon Gear Up funds. Principal David Norton said last year they used funds to bring a motivational speaker, but they wanted to do something this year with a greater impact. Norton had seen the program online, and thought it was a good fit for the Gear Up connection, which “has the goal of empowering students to go out and talk to people about their goals after they graduate and break down barriers to be able to talk to anybody.”

Breaking Down the Walls is intended to change the way students at Riverside see one another. The program consists of a motivational speaker, training of student leaders and a workshop day that focuses on individual growth, violence prevention, bullying prevention, empathy and campus awareness.

“One of the goals for Riverside School this year is to create a team atmosphere amongst the student body and staff. Breaking Down the Walls is a way for our students and staff to gain additional tools for bullying prevention, to learn more about one another and expand ways to continue to support each other every day,” Norton said.

During the workshops on the second day, the facilitator, Rochelle Whellams, got students talking about hard issues like depression, loneliness and personal obstacles. Students were encouraged to choose a person to share positive things about. In another exercise, they wrote motivating messages about peers on stickers and placed them on each other. Through the process, students realized many of them have experienced the same difficulties. When Whellams asked the group, “When your fellow student is struggling, will you be there?” all of the students answered with a resounding “Yes!”

A sophomore said the day was a good one, “there are lots of people you can trust who are going through the same situation as you, but you didn’t know it.”

Another student said what she took away from the experience was seeing people differently  and having more respect for people who may be going through the same things she is.

At the end of the day, the feeling was definitely positive. Whellams praised the students, saying “You are the ones who created the energy in this room and you can keep it going.”

For more information about Breaking Down the Walls, visit www.learningforliving.com/breaking-down-the-walls.

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