Equity team organizes Breaking Down the Walls week

September 25, 2018 — by Nitya Marimuthu and Emilie Zhou
bw breaking down walls copy

The week of Oct. 22 will be focused on inclusiveness and removing false perceptions between students.

The school is hosting a program called “Breaking Down the Walls” during the week of Oct. 22 that will feature assemblies and activities that aim to help create a warmer, more welcoming environment for all students.

“The focus of the week was breaking down the perceptions that we have of each other as human beings and students of this school so that we can interact and work together instead of compete,” said assistant principal Kerry Mohnike, leader of the school’s equity team, the group that is spearheading the week.

Learning for Living, the same company that created Link Crew, is running the program. Breaking Down the Walls week will consist of a mix of small group interactions, assemblies and trainings. During this week, students will have opportunity to connect with their peers and meet new people on a more personal level.

On Monday, the program will start with an all-school assembly in the morning and training for Link Crew leaders in the afternoon. Students in Link Crew will take on leadership roles during the week as freshmen, sophomores and juniors participate in different workshops and activities.

Seniors are not going to be included in the activity sessions, but willing seniors can take on leadership roles. This is in part due to the lack of time, but also to encourage seniors to take a broader role in the program.

According to counselor Eileen Allen, the idea of Breaking Down the Walls came about when the team was discussing how to connect teachers and students and reduce false perceptions about others. Teachers went through a similar training the week before school started and appreciated the experience.

“The training was really well structured and I thought it was far more comfortable to participate in than I was worried it would be,” English 12 teacher Jason Friend said. “It let us see things about our fellow teachers that we didn’t know before.”

The main issues that the school hopes to address this week are the different barriers created by academic competition.

“I think sometimes, but not always, people tend to stick with people who are in the same kind of academic level of classes,” Friend said. “I think that this wall can always be broken down more and people can realize that there’s a lot of interesting people who they might not necessarily associate with all the time.”

According to registrar Robert Wise, 663 out of 1,344 students, or 49.3 percent of students, are currently taking at least one AP class. Approximately 2.9 percent of freshmen, 32 percent of sophomores, 79.3 percent of juniors and 86.4 percent of seniors are enrolled in an AP class.

In addition, it’s typical for students, especially juniors and seniors, to be taking multiple AP and honors classes. This year, juniors are taking up to five AP classes while seniors are taking as many as six AP classes.

While many students take these classes to challenge themselves, others admit that the intense academic competition has also affected their decisions on choosing certain classes and their relationships.

“I am pressured to take all the classes that challenge me, but I try to overcome this and decide which classes would be the most useful,” junior Quan Do said. “I think the mentality at SHS is that everybody is your competition, and that if you don't take hard classes, you will fall behind. While this helps with colleges, it could lead to an unhealthy high school experience.”

The constant peer pressure to choose certain classes can also negatively affect students and possibly increase stress for those that may be overloading their schedules with difficult courses.

The prevalent academic competition also sometimes leads to students being isolated from their classmates. Offering help to others could give them a leg up, and the continuous race to the top leads to a ruthless environment.

“I think that academic competition has caused students to be kind of reserved and to hide some things from others,” senior Elizabeth Hung said. “Since we all know we're competing with each other, we might withhold information or try to undermine others.”

While the goal of the assemblies and activities is to encourage inclusiveness among students, it’s only a small step toward changing and improving the school’s culture and environment.

“I think that Breaking Down the Walls week will potentially just allow people to have a little pause from that academic stress that everybody’s under and see the bigger picture,” Friend said. “I think that can have small positive impacts then might ripple into larger effects.”