Heather Tomscak a facilitator for the Point Break program speaks to seventh-graders about her difficult years at Oak Ridge High School. Village Life photo by Julie Samrick

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Point Break teaches students to break down walls

By From page A1 | October 25, 2017

Shark attacks on land were just one part of Rolling Hills Middle School seventh-graders’ experience of developing more empathy for their peers while also boosting their own resilience as part of a recent Point Break day-long workshop.

“Point Break is a workshop designed to break down educational and social barriers that exist between students on middle school and high school campuses. Through high-energy activities, interaction with caring adults and relevant discussion (regarding bullying, painful life experiences and emotional expression), Point Break draws students together, focusing on empathy and respect. Students respond to the day’s challenges with self-reflection and the acknowledgement of personal responsibility. The end result is students who begin to pursue behavioral change,” states the program’s website. “Resilient students display social competence, problem-solving skills, personal responsibility and a sense of purpose and future.”

“We invited the Point Break staff to our campus to help build more empathy and connections among our students,” said RHMS counselor Dee Cutter. “Our hope is that all students will feel there is support and encouragement among their peers and many adults in their lives.”

Cutter said she was impressed with the program after learning about it when Camerado Springs Middle School hosted the workshop, which Cutter noted is a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration registered evidence-based program available to students throughout the United States.

Point Break staff member Heather Tomscak grew up in El Dorado Hills and shared with students that she was ostracized during her years at Oak Ridge High School.

“No one ever took the time to ask, ‘Why don’t you hang out with us on Friday nights?’” she said, describing her teen years as working to help her single mother make ends meet. When one former friend started to whisper behind Tomscak’s back, gossip quickly spread until she felt like the whole school made her the target of bullying.

“What hurts the most is that no one stood up for me except for one teacher,” Tomscak added to the room of quiet students. “Be that person.”

Tomscak said 160,000 school-age children in America stay home every day because of bullying or harassment at school.

“There are three key points that are woven purposefully into the workshop —  be encouraging, be connected and be real,” Cutter said.

After participating in Point Break four times this year, Cutter said she found “many compelling and touching moments during the workshops,” with the most powerful moment to her being the Cross the Line activity, when all students and adults create a large circle in the multi-purpose room. One Point Break staff member reads several statements such as, “If you were challenged to be more encouraging with your words today …”, “If you have ever witnessed bullying or harassment on social media …”, “If you feel the pressure of your future, including tests and college, causes you a lot of stress and anxiety …” For each statement they would say yes to, students and adults were asked to silently cross the line.

“It is heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time to look around the room and watch our young people courageously cross the line,” Cutter said. “It is even more touching when the speaker asked students and adults to reach out to someone and give them a hug. It is that moment when I feel that the students really understand what empathy is.”

For more information or to schedule a workshop for your school visit pointbreakonline.com.

Julie Samrick

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