Breaking Down the Walls returns to Lake Stevens High


Courtesy of Julie Henggeler

Making connections: Sophomore Daymen Schmuck and junior Miracle Ohiri share a conversation after being paired for an activity. Students worked in pairs for short activities, as well as groups of eight for longer games. “You’re a Viking, and I’m a Viking, so we already have one thing in common,” Principal Leslie Ivelia said.

Breaking Down the Walls program made its return to LSHS during the week of Sept. 26-30. Students were given the opportunity to participate in the program for a full day of activities with one goal in mind – creating a more unified community through Respect, Fun, and Stories.
Approximately 800 students participated throughout the week. The program says that “the Breaking Down the Walls program is a unique opportunity for students and staff to connect, share their stories, and realize it’s hard to hate someone whose story you know.”’
“You’re a Viking, and I’m a Viking, so we already have one thing in common,” Principal Ivelia said, relating to the same sentiment.
Heading into Friday after hearing other students’ reactions throughout the week, “an emotional experience” is what sophomore Klowi Steven was expecting. Steven explained that initially, she was ambivalent while signing up and that only after hearing other students talk about it, was she looking forward to it.
Even though Steven was uncertain when she signed up, she ended up enjoying Friday and expressed that she felt like it was a valuable use of a school day.
“I didn’t think we were going to do a lot of the activities that we did. I thought it was just going to be a lot more talking to people,” Steven said.
“Just by looking at someone else, you don’t truly know what they’re going through” was a change of perspective that Steven felt she shared with many of her peers.
Similar to Steven, senior Riley Scherer was doubtful when a teacher convinced her to take part. She expressed concern for an entire day of missing class and the amount of work that would need to be made up as a consequence. Once she heard from other students, she was less apprehensive and felt like it was valuable.
“I’m a bit more flexible about not letting my eyes show me everything, but also people’s voices and feelings,” Scherer said.
Scherer explained that the largest takeaway was the sense of community that was felt. The awareness of our peers’ feelings, and the idea that no one is in anything alone.
As students heard from their peers about the program, sign-ups increased going into Friday, with the last day having the highest attendance. Ivelia reflected and expressed how happy she was with the resounding positive feedback from students who chose to attend the program.
There was initially confusion around the program, and Ivelia chalks this up to a lack of communication.
“In 2019 a whole school assembly was held. With that, there was a better connection with students, and it was better understood what is this, what will I do, why was I nominated, etc. This year there was all this confusion around what it was,” Ivelia said.
Ivelia stressed that it’s important for students to feel seen and important; it’s important for even a small group of people to know each other’s names, and that the effects of these relationships are seen in the hallways daily.
“How can we sustainably create a change in culture and continue this motto?” was a question Ivelia felt needed to be answered, and the program could be a valuable tool in working towards the answer.
“The plan was to bring this program back on a yearly basis, for the following three to five years,” Ivelia explained.
Ultimately the COVID-19 pandemic prevented this. The return of the program was aimed to create a change in school culture; with students who have a better understanding of each other, and the places that their peers may be in – to form a sense of empathy. She stressed that this mutual understanding is the building block of a healthy student culture. Ivelia has high hopes and is looking forward to the return of the program to LSHS in the future.