Foothill senior has them listening | March 30, 2012 | Pleasanton Weekly | |

Pleasanton Weekly

Column - March 30, 2012

Foothill senior has them listening

by Jeb Bing

Several thousand in Pleasanton were rocked to the core emotionally last week by motivational speaker Calvin Terrell, thanks to Atasha Bozorgzad, an 18-year-old senior at Foothill High School who has become one of his biggest fans. Atasha, who spent her freshman and sophomore years at Foothill, heard Terrell speak during her one brief junior year at Del Oro High School in Loomis. Upon returning to Foothill last August, she began making the case for bringing the widely known founder of Arizona-based Social Centric to Pleasanton. She had the help of her counselor Jennifer Roush, whose School Climate Task Force is charged with dealing with bullying, drugs, alcohol, depression and other concerns on school campuses. Terrell, Atasha explained, can help address those concerns and much more. Even more important, Atasha recalled from her Del Oro High experience, the kids listen, really listen.

We all saw that last week where more than 2,200 Foothill students, faculty and administrators sat in rapt attention in those two assemblies. There were the usual number of distractions by some disgruntled students who were too restless at first to listen, but within the first 10 minutes the cell phones were put away and even the usual whispers stopped as Terrell talked about present day issues, from the death of Trayvon Martin at the hands of George Zimmerman in Florida to casual language kids use that often can be hurtful.

For Atasha, Terrell's message was about bullying but also much more. It's the put-downs both boys and girls say, usually without thinking, such as "You're so gay," that seemed to have caught the attention of students. In a booming voice that filled the Foothill gym even when his microphone failed, Terrell talked about racism, ethnic slurs, cultural background, relationships, even genocide. Atasha, whose parents came to the States from Iran, proudly stood up as Terrell called out her ethnic background, going through Foothill's diverse roster until everyone was standing. "The point was that although there are many different cultures at Foothill, we all go to the same school and interact every day. We should be able to get along."

Looking across the auditorium, Atasha saw different emotions with some in tears and others nodding in agreement. At times, the gym was so quiet you could hear a pin drop as Terrell's talk made its impact. "This guy is for real," Atasha said. "He even made some of the guys cry over the things they might have said or ways they might have acted that were wrong, that hurt others. I've never seen one person have such a great impact on kids."

Terrell usually charges $3,500 for a day of lectures and comprehensive workshops. But he remembered Atasha from her support at Del Oro and reduced his fees so that Roush, the counselor, could secure enough funds from her Awareness program and individual donations. Terrell's day here included the two assemblies, a separate workshop meeting with Foothill faculty, which he led, and a community meeting that night.

Atasha has joined Roush's task force that is working to keep Terrell's message alive "before the honeymoon is over." The group wants to increase efforts in the next school year to deal with bullying and other student problems. With Atasha's help, even though she's off to Sonoma State to study for a career in teaching kindergarten through fifth-grade students, she's committed to bringing Terrell back to Pleasanton. Using her friendship and influence with the motivational speaker once again, he may return for an even lower fee.