Students participate in BreakDown STL
April 13, 2018
Through a program called BreakDown STL, student leaders from around 20 high schools across the St. Louis area, give performances and teach healthy living classes all across the St. Louis area throughout the school year.
The topics BreakDown covers are drugs, alcohol, sex, abstinence, self-harm, suicide and healthy relationships. Their main goal is to encourage high school students to live life differently rather than doing what the popular choice or media is influencing students to do.
Joe Roseman, senior
After senior Joe Roseman went to a BreakDown STL performance four years ago, senior Daniel Loaney asked if he would be interested in joining BreakDown. Roseman was excited to have found a practical way to serve.
“I have a heart for ministry, so I really wanted to find a way to do ministry in a practical form. I’ve done community service and volunteer work, but reaching high schoolers who may not ever hear some of these messages is very important,” Roseman said.
After giving a lesson on suicide, Roseman was able to reach out and talk to a student in need.
“One kid came up [to me] and basically told me his life story. He’d been abused by his parents, and his girlfriend blamed him for leading her to commit suicide. I was able to help him deal with that by reminding him that it wasn’t his fault. Also, others blamed him too so reminding him that what other people think of him doesn’t determine his value was something I helped him work through,” Roseman said.
To prepare, the off-stage team runs through lessons individually and together as well as run through possible scenarios when sitting with the students at lunch.
“It’s a lot of hard work and preparation [for the lessons] outside of school, but all that pays off when we get to see kids respond to the lessons. There are some people where it’s in one ear and out the other, but when we get positive responses, it’s awesome,” Roseman said. “Witnessing kids open up who wouldn’t normally do that is the most rewarding part.”
Roseman believes his experience with not only speech and debate but the people in his life have helped prepare him for his presentations and conversations with the students.
“I’ve had experiences with other people in my life who have gone through similar things that we talk and give lessons about,” Roseman said. “I don’t want to go in and just start talking about something I don’t have experience with since knowing is one thing, but the experience is another.”
Other experiences, such as the leadership team Roseman is on at his youth group, have also equipped Roseman.
“I’m on the leadership team at my youth group and it does a similar thing [as BreakDown]. Kids need someone to be there for them, so being brought up in that environment to help others at my church has been extremely helpful,” Roseman said.
The main focus for Roseman is asking questions and learning about the students before sharing the lessons.
“I really have to get myself in a selfless mindset because I’m going in to talk with others about their life, and it’s not about me. [To get into that selfless mindset], I try to remember why I joined BreakDown, to care for other people,” Roseman said. “The relationships are the most important part; the lessons are only impactful if a relationship with a kid is built first.”
Claire Smout, junior
When junior Natalie Butler informed junior Claire Smout that BreakDown needed more people, Smout auditioned, liking how the program focused on peer mentoring.
“It’s a lot more influential. I know if someone was coming to my school to talk to me, I would really appreciate if it was another student and not an adult,” Smout said.
Being a part of the off-stage team, Smout goes to Union High School once a month to teach her peers about healthy lifestyle choices. Smout and fellow BreakDown members also have rehearsal every Sunday from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. The morning of the lesson, the team leaves for the school at 6:30 a.m. and gets back at around 2 p.m.
“Even after a lesson where a kid doesn’t say anything but comes up to me [later in the year] saying how the lesson actually did impact them is rewarding,” Smout said. “Being able to build those relationships with students has been really cool to see.”
Although the off-stage lessons are different from the on-stage performances, both teams require public speaking in front of many students.
“Being comfortable with public speaking and being a leader has been a really good, growing process for me,” Smout said. “It has really made me more of an outgoing person.”
At first, Smout was fearful to be on the team since she felt that she did not have experience or exposure to the topics they taught.
“I have never been a person who parties, and there were so many things that I didn’t even know coming into BreakDown. I was scared I wouldn’t be able to help, but now, not only have I been able to learn about the topics I didn’t know much about, but I can also see the use of those things in my own school now,” Smout said.
Although it is difficult for Smout to relate to some topics, BreakDown does is effective in informing the team about all the issues that are going to be talked about before going into the lesson.
“I just have to really do research to know the topic. If we’re talking about prescription drugs, I have to educate myself in that to be able to relate better with the students,” Smout said.
A few of the lessons Smout has taught this year surrounded topics like anxiety, self-image, prescription drug abuse, depression and suicide and healthy versus toxic relationships. Smout is grateful that BreakDown has helped her connect with struggling students.
“[Because I] go to the school every month, there are definitely people who have come to me with big things,” Smout said. “One girl, in particular, was struggling with depression and suicide, but it’s cool that I get to go into her school and check up with her once a month to see how things are going. I can just be there for her but also get her the help that she needs beyond me.”
Will Schuchardt, junior
Two years ago junior Will Schuchardt auditioned for BreakDown as an actor, and—despite having no previous acting skills—joined the on-stage team.
“I saw it was a prime position to reach those who needed to be reached, but don’t always get reached by other students. Through this, I am able to be bold in what I believe in and step outside my comfort zone,” Schuchardt said. “I used to make poor decisions, but now I can really make an impact on the students and let them know that they don’t have to live like I used to live, because I would rather put myself out there and keep a student from going through what I went through.”
Schuchardt’s role in the performance is a student who struggles with depression and considers ending his life. Halfway through the show, he writes a suicide letter, but ultimately friends come alongside him and prevent him from taking his life. Through this role, Schuchardt has reached out and connected with students who have struggled with suicide.
“I got to talk to this one guy and take him to the counselor and really just get him help. He was really dealing with suicide and he actually had his suicide planned for the upcoming week. I still keep in contact with him and that’s one of the stories that makes me realize why I do this: that kid might not be here today if BreakDown wasn’t a thing, so it’s very real life stuff that I wouldn’t experience if I wasn’t on BreakDown,” Schuchardt said.
Schuchardt joined the team in fall 2016 and felt unprepared to act in front of large audiences comprised of his peers. He was also not prepared for the personal transformation he would experience.
“There’s a huge difference. People wouldn’t even recognize how I carried myself then versus now,” Schuchardt said. “Just the fact that they [BreakDown] accepted me and brought me into their family when I did not deserve it is another sign of how much I’m appreciative of BreakDown. My life before didn’t prepare me, but now BreakDown’s prepared me for the rest of my life.”
Schuchardt feels his role is a vehicle to engage in difficult conversations with peers and help them to the best of his ability.
“It’s rewarding that they want to talk to us about their problems and it’s not forced. That they want to change and know how we get through things, the opportunity to talk to them is the best part. The acting stuff, who cares, it’s just to meet the students where they’re at and talk with them,” Schuchardt said.