“Breaking Down” Breaking Down the Walls


Photo/Kate Rowberry

Two students attending Breaking Down the Walls play an icebreaker to get them more comfortable with their environment.

To most high school students, the thought of “opening up” to an unknown classmate and discussing all the difficulties of one’s life might seem frightening. But at Breaking Down the Walls, students are encouraged to feel safe talking about their inner feelings with others on the GBHS campus.

Created by Phil Boyte – also known for being the founder of WEB & Link Crew – Breaking Down the Walls is a program designed to allow students to connect with fellow classmates, teachers and discover that “it’s hard to hate someone whose story you know”: the motto of BDTW. 

The program consists of a day of activities geared towards aiding high school students in growing a newfound understanding of others’ stories or struggles – and coming to understand that they are not alone in their struggles. 

Many attendees of BDTW might be skeptical of it due to its extremely personal aspect. However, the event hugely centers around making their participants feel comfortable with opening up to those around them – it starts off seemingly nonchalantly, with a few icebreakers to help get a few laughs out of those wary of the experience.

“The first introduction really makes you feel comfortable and safe and you’re having fun,” freshman and BDTW attendee Marissa Mariona said.“In the beginning, I was kind of sketchy about it … but at first it wasn’t deep at all. I was… making jokes and having fun.”

Many students’ favorite event of BDTW was the talent show, where participants volunteer to show any strange or secret abilities they might have that nobody else knows about. 

“This girl could do…a roundoff back handspring…Then this other guy, he could…bend his arms in a really weird way. And I think it was just really cool…to see what people can do because I knew half of them and I didn’t know if they could do that,” Mariona said.

But as the program progresses through the day, the activities become more personal. Students are given the opportunity to speak with each other on a deeper level than many of them are used to, allowing their new acquaintances to see them “without their masks on.” Each individual can explain their struggles or comfort others around them who might be going through something similar. 

Participants also played Cross the Line which is a game played that fosters much deeper emotions later in the day. The game consists of the BDTW area being broken into 3 sections, ranging from “low-intensity” to “high-intensity”. Students choose their own section, and are told to take the game seriously, As the leaders will then proceed to ask questions to each group – Ranging from “Are you afraid your parents are going to get divorced?” to “Are you afraid that you’re going to lose someone you know to addiction within the next 10 years?”. Students then choose to walk across the physical line drawn for them if the answer is yes, or stay on the line if their answer is no. Once everyone reaches their places, the prompter asks a few more questions which students raise their hands to if they have experienced. The experience is intended to allow students to see that they are not alone in their experiences.

 “It was mind opening. There are a lot of people who are going through struggles that you didn’t   know about, and you’re never alone on anything,” senior and BDTW attendee Harrison Wilson. “It makes you learn to have empathy for the people around you.”

Despite the positive feedback from many of those who attended BDTW, a few students still felt strongly about the event – the event’s relevancy comes into question when many students feel that the main premise of the event has no use, or that a student could get the same help from somebody else, like the GBHS Wellness Center.

“If I attended I would have gone with an open mind. But with my schedule and with my mindset, I don’t think it would do me any good. If I was an AP teacher I would be annoyed because the event takes away necessary time,” junior Meera Kashyap said.

Some students said they chose not to attend because they feared the academic repercussions of missing a full day of school, especially as upperclassmen.

“It’s taking time away from essential classes which can set students and entire classes behind,” Kashyap said, “As an AP student I think that it takes too much time away from vital learning time.”

Other students even felt that BDTW was not advertised well enough on the GBHS campus. The Student Government made presentations to most classes explaining that BDTW was occurring, but some students felt that they did not explain what the event was.

“Student Government kids came into our classroom to show us the event, but I feel like they didn’t even know what they were talking about,” one anonymous junior said.

In a survey conducted on GBHS students, of the 189 students who took the survey, roughly 20% of students did not know that BDTW was occurring, nearly 30% didn’t know someone who was attending and over 40% didn’t know what the event was about.

According to many of the 29 leaders at the event, however, the experience was one which was well worth it, no matter how many came. 

“I got to know…people that I don’t know as well or people that I might not be so close with,” BDTW leader and junior Parker Sidney said, “I got to know…how they feel about this school, how they…feel in general and their life story.”