Keith Hawkins, a facilitator from Sacramento who holds "student bonding" assemblies at high schools throughout the U.S., recently paid a second visit to Laguna Beach High, where he spent the morning helping kids in the senior class connect with one another.
Through an all-class lecture and smaller group activities, Hawkins aimed to help kids figure out who they are as people, to see the good in their peers and treat each other with kindness.
"We had Keith work with our students for the first time last May and received really positive feedback," Principal Don Austin said. "Since he helps kids to connect on so many different levels, we thought it would be better to hold the assembly earlier in the year this time, rather than at the end.
"Our seniors learned about what it means to have integrity, and that the things we say have an impact," Austin said. "High school is the real world, and what students do here translates to the rest of their lives. That's why it's important for them to start making good decisions now."
After he spoke to the kids as a whole, Hawkins broke the class up into smaller groups, where they played "ice-breaker" games before engaging in more intimate bonding activities.
Groups were lead by student facilitators, who were chosen by teachers and received training from Hawkins the prior evening about how to direct their groups.
Senior Camille Rang, who served as a facilitator, said she was moved by a "paper tearing" activity in which the students share with each other moments that drastically changed their lives. As they tell their stories, they tear a piece from the tissue they're given into the circle as a means of "releasing" the emotions that are associated with this moment and leaving it behind.
"It was interesting to talk with kids I don't normally talk to and to be able to relate with what's going on in their lives," she said. "This experience taught me that every person goes through some type of struggle and that I shouldn't judge others so quickly.
"It's definitely something I'll be cautious about from now on."
Rebecca Galan, another student who had the opportunity to engage with three different groups, said the experience was more cathartic for her.
A child of missionaries who live in Cancun, Galan left her parents and younger brother and moved to Laguna Beach two years ago to live with her aunt and uncle, so that she could focus on her education and have a more promising future.
"I don't usually open myself up to people, but I felt I needed to because everyone else in my circle was telling their own stories," she said. "It felt good to talk to my peers about where I came from and how much I miss my family.
"Something I really admire about Keith is that he trusts and loves so openly. It's something I want to do, because it really brings people together."
Through exercises like this and the cultural exchange program, Austin said his recent focus has been connecting people among the student body, staff and business partners.
"When someone becomes more than just a face you pass in the hallway, it creates a relationship with endless potential," Austin said. "If you ask the kids what they took away from this assembly, you'll get 100 right answers. Everyone got something different and positive from it."