By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Point Break Hits Home
More than 120 students took a risk on Wednesday ... making the decision to let others know they are vulnerable ... as Escalon High School hosted its annual Point Break program.

"We had 122 students and we tried it with just sophomores this year," said guidance counselor Sandy Pendley, one of the facilitators for the daylong event staged at the city's Community Center. "I thought it was wonderful, it has been a good program."

Students voluntarily signed up for the program, which starts with some fun icebreaker type activities and games, then breaks into small group sessions. An afternoon exercise, Cross The Line, is where the event turns the most serious, as participants take a step 'across the line' based on statements offered by facilitators, ranging from bullying to depression, family troubles and more.

If you have been affected by one of the issues being discussed, you cross the line.

It is there, said Pendley, that students' eyes are opened to one another and compassion and empathy start to filter in.

"It helps them recognize they're not the only ones in that boat," Pendley said of students sharing similar experiences that they may have thought were unique to them. "The kids also got to talk, an open mic, they shared, some apologized, some offered thanks."

Sophomore Shay Beam said she is glad she decided to take part in the day.

"I learned a lot about other people," she said. "You got to open up and connect."

The start of the program, emceed by Point Break leader Joel Wurgler, had students pretending to be sailors on a ship and having to move from the quarter deck to the poop deck to protecting themselves from a shark or torpedo to saving a 'man overboard' through a variety of movements.

While there was plenty of laughter, that exercise and others got the students 'warmed up' and comfortable with each other, paving the way for the more intensive afternoon sessions.

Wurgler told students that 'point break' is a surfing term, describing the piece of land that juts out on the ocean floor and causes the wave to break. It is, he said, below the surface but still has a huge impact.

"Today we're going below the surface," he told students on Wednesday morning. "We're going to go below the games people play in high school, and we're going to have fun getting there."

The three basic rules of the day, he said, were to stay all day, have a good attitude and show respect.

"It was more than I expected," admitted sophomore Samantha Bavaro of the experience. "I'm glad I did it."

Fellow sophomore Michelle Pinasco said she also felt the program was worthwhile. A member of the school's PIT, Peer Interaction Team, Pinasco said she was glad to see students dropping the barriers and getting to know one another.

"I didn't really know what to expect," Pinasco said. "It was really emotional. I got to know people I didn't before. I would recommend it."

Pendley said the program is put on through the Point Break program and though the district had hoped to put it on for two days to reach more kids, they had to scale back to one due to cost. But with more than 120 students taking part, she felt it was a success. She also thanked the parents and community members, in addition to some school staff members, who served as facilitators for the smaller group sessions and went through the program with the students.

"It's always great to get the community involved," she said.

Escalon High School Principal Joel Johannsen said the program has been effective, helping ease divisions that used to occur on campus.

Pendley agreed.

"There used to be a third hall," she said, noting that in past years, 'third hall' was the designated area for Hispanic students. "We don't have a third hall anymore. We don't see as much conflict on campus, verbal or physical, there's a different climate in the air and the kids are more accepting of each other."

The school started the climate change with Challenge Day as part of the Be The Change movement a few years ago. They have followed that up with the Point Break presentations and plan to continue.

"It's exciting to see," Pendley said of the cohesiveness among students on campus. "They really need that."