Breaking Down the Walls program returns to Burlingame


Lexi Goldstein

Senior Zoe Steinberger and sophomore John Adams participate in the first of three BDTW workshops on Oct. 12, which kicked off with small group discussions.

Lexi Goldstein, Editor-In-Chief

The community-building program, Breaking Down the Walls (BDTW), returned to Burlingame from Oct. 11-14 as a part of the leadership class’s efforts to reconnect the student body following the full return to campus. Led by facilitator Freddie Silveria, the assembly on Monday and three subsequent workshops garnered the interest of over 450 students. In the main gym, students and staff mingled throughout the day sharing stories of their childhood, hopes, dreams and hardships. 

“Breaking Down the Walls essentially gives students and staff permission to talk to one another,” Silveria said. “You get a chance to meet people.”

Starting the morning with one-on-one conversations and various group activities run by student leaders, the group of approximately 150 focused on Silvervia’s three main workshop goals: laugh, respect and share stories. From team-building relays to vulnerable “if you really knew me” heart-to-hearts, participants created an atmosphere of support. 

“You’re able to share stories that you usually wouldn’t want to share with other people,” Silveria said. “Sometimes you have people in the room that are best friends, and they’ve never shared some of these things because it’s hard.”

After a lunch break, the group participated in a “cross the line” activity, where Silveria read 60 questions ranging from topics of suicide to eating disorders to bullying. Standing along a painted line on the basketball court, students’ hardships were visually represented as they stepped forward when Silveria made a statement they could relate to. 

For sophomore Irene Chen, it was the highlight of her BDTW experience.

“Our student population would be considered pretty privileged in comparison to other schools,” Chen said. “It’s super interesting to see that a lot of people still struggle with these similar things.”

Leadership teacher Nicole Carter, who advocated for the program’s return, said the school missed out on the ripple effect of the 2020 sessions since California’s stay-at-home order was mandated mere days after the last workshop. Bringing the program back to Burlingame earlier in the school year was important to Carter and the leadership class, given that most freshman and sophomores had yet to step foot on campus. 

“There’s a lot of great on this campus, but we’ve got work to do when it comes to building relationships and empathy and understanding one another outside of our classroom or our friend bubble,” Carter said.

Students already see the positive impact of BDTW on campus. 

“There are certainly a lot more people saying ‘hi’ to me in the hallways, and I say ‘hi’ to them as well,” senior and BDTW participant Laurel Thun said. “I think that’s the first step towards making a bigger change in the school community.” 

Burlingame leadership has hopes of hosting another BDTW program in the future, but in the meantime, they are focused on planning lunch activities where students can bring friends that did not partake in a workshop for ice-breaker games.