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Program aims to 'break down the walls'

Posted: March 21, 2008 1:26 a.m.
Updated: May 22, 2008 5:02 a.m.

Canyon High School's Samantha Halladay (middle right) Cierra Corbett (middle left) and classmates perform different movements while holding straws during the Breaking Down the Walls diversity program's team-building exercise on Wednesday morning.

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Some Canyon High School students were presented with the task of running through a moving jump rope four students at a time, one group right after the other, without making a single mistake on Wednesday as part of a diversity training program called "Breaking down the Walls."

They were given six minutes to complete the task. But what the students learned quite quickly - after having to start over a couple of times when a group didn't make it through - is that it's much easier to get a group of people through a moving jump rope when everyone is holding hands.

"You did that because holding hands gave you a better chance of success, but what you were saying to your teammates was "I will not let you bail,'" said Stu Cade, a Denver resident who travels the country teaching students to accept one another's differences.

"There are times when you need to hold someone's hand to let them know you are there for them," Cade told the students. "I need you guys to literally, physically and metaphorically hold each other's hands."
More than 300 Canyon students from all grades and all walks of life were selected by their teachers to participate in the Breaking Down the Walls program. The program uses exercises like the jump rope challenge to promote communication and teamwork.

"What makes Breaking Down the Walls truly unique is that it empowers students to safely and comfortable reach out and communicate with each other, finding support regardless of their peer group," said Jennifer Ambrose, Canyon ASB director. "Breaking Down the Walls also fosters a caring environment that promotes positive interaction."

This was the first time that Canyon High has offered the program, and it went even better than Ambrose had imagined, she said.

"We've never had anything like this in our district, so I didn't know what to expect," Ambrose said. "The students got a better understanding of each other and the school environment that they could have."

Senior Kenia Osores said that while she hardly knew anyone in the group of students selected to participate, she was able to feel comfortable. Socializing with students she didn't know taught her that she should try to get to know some people on campus who are not in her peer group, she said.

"If you just go out and introduce yourself to someone and learn about their life, you will find out they are not that different from you," Kenia said.

Junior Sue Issa said students should be more careful with the words they use on campus.

"Kids need to be more careful in choosing their words, like the words 'retarded' and 'gay' - people on campus use those words all the time, and they shouldn't do that," Issa said. "There are other words they can say that won't put a scar on someone's heart forever."

During one portion of the program, students were placed in small groups and were given the opportunity to share personal stories about their lives.

"Kids shared things that they had never shared before in their lives," said 10th grader Dani Haberman. "There were kids with tears coming down their faces, and someone next to them would put their arm around them and ask if they were all right."

The students' next challenge is to try to spread the positive interaction they experienced during the Breaking Down the Walls program to the rest of the Canyon campus.

"If this can happen on a small scale, then imagine what we can do on a bigger scale," Haberman said.

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