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Breaking Barriers

Program helps students talk about bullying, social issues

October 18, 2012
By LEVI PASCHER , The Leader Herald

GLOVERSVILLE - After spending the school day talking about life experiences and other social issues with her peers, Gloversville High School ninth-grader Emily Hennelly realized she's not alone in dealing with the illness of a loved one.

"It makes me feel better that I can tell people and see that they relate to what I am experiencing," said Hennelly, holding back tears.

Hennelly was among other ninth-graders who attended a Point Break workshop Wednesday for Gloversville students. Point Break is a six-hour workshop designed to break down social barriers between students through high-energy activities, interaction with school faculty and Point Break staff, and discussion regarding bullying, painful life experiences and emotional expression.

Article Photos

Students participate in an activity that promotes teamwork at the Point Break workshop Wednesday. This game is a hula-hoop version of hot potato; when the music stops, the student wearing the hoop eats baby food.
The Leader-Herald/Levi Pascher

Hennelly said her mother recently was diagnosed with cancer. She said that through group discussions during the workshop, she was able to open up for the first time about the situation at home. She said she now can see how many people are in the same situation or already have experienced what she's going through with her family.

"My favorite thing [about the workshop] is that I am not being judged or alone in dealing with things like this," she said at Wednesday's event.

Hennelly was not alone in expressing emotion at the event. Many of her peers were emotional when speaking about their problems and showed appreciation for what the event allowed them to witness.

Freshmen Brooke LaMont and Cheyenne Lehr said they think the workshop helped them because it allowed them to show people who they are and what they are experiencing at this time.

"I suggest this program to any person in a rough point of their life," said Lehr. "I actually think this should happen before you even become a freshman, like middle school or something because that is when it all starts."

The Point Break program, which also promotes resiliency among students to reduce campus violence, is being conducted over three days. It concludes today in Gloversville.

Point Break has been conducting the program in about a dozen school districts across the Capital Region.

Wednesday's event, held at a former school building at the Church of the Holy Spirit on South Main Street, brought students together by focusing on empathy and respect.

The students offered self-reflection and acknowledgment of personal responsibility during the workshop.

The freshman class of 207 students is attending the event.

"The day itself is all about addressing behaviors, attitudes and values," said Point Break coordinator Steve Prettyman. "We are giving these kids an opportunity to see that their peer walking down the hall isn't just a face but a story with different hurts, talents and abilities. A day like this allows them to show a human side that doesn't often come out in the school setting. It allows them to see how seriously words affect people."

Point Break holds the event at a neutral location because the school setting can prevent students from saying things or acting in a certain way, said Prettyman. He said that throughout the day, the workshop has small and large group activities for students to begin to open up about their feelings and experiences in life. Some of the activities involve games that promote teamwork.

At the end of the event, students are given the opportunity for reconciliation and revelation by speaking in front of their peers about what they are thankful for or may have done wrong in the past.

High school Principal Richard DeMallie combined the Point Break event, which has taken place in Gloversville for the last three years, with the Bridges Peer to Peer Mentoring program.

The mentoring program includes 25 selected juniors and seniors who were recommended by high school faculty and have had training in teamwork and leadership skills. One of those classes was partaking in a rope course earlier this year that forced teamwork and trust between the mentors.

DeMallie said he will have the mentors meet with the freshman class 15 times after school from Nov. 19 until the end of the school year in June.

"This will re-energize what happens at the Point Break workshop to continue and remain on the minds of the students," said DeMallie. "The students will be there for each other to better understand that each of them share common ground and may be experiencing some of the same pressures in life throughout the year."

At the event, issues varied between problems at school to the things they face in the home setting.

"This means a lot to me because the Point Break session wasn't around when I came to the high school as a freshman," said senior mentor Zech Brown. "As a freshman, if you can't make a connection [at] the school, it is really hard to make it through the four years because you are all alone. I'm extremely grateful that I can help these freshmen make a connection with a senior or someone older so that they can finish."

Brown said they did a lot of activities throughout the day that took them out of their comfort zone and forced them to talk and work together. He said one of those activities was called "Knees-to-Knees and Hands-to-Hands," where two students linked up face to face and let each other talk for 60 seconds without interruption or comments.

"We have so many misconceptions about people in school," said senior mentor Rachel Brown-Weinstock. "Honestly, we are all so much alike, but we never know this until we get into the deeper parts of our life, and that is what is so special about this. It lets us question ourselves why we fight or talk about people because they are all like us deep down."

Superintendent Michael Vanyo said after the event he wants to see more positive-behavior intervention services within the district because of how much Point Break and other programs influence the students to change and understand one another.

"We are looking at multiple programs to implement at the middle school," Vanyo said. "We definitely will be looking to improve any way we can."

Levi Pascher covers Gloversville news. He can be contacted by email at



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