BAXTER - It takes courage for a middle school student to stand up alone to a bully or to friends who are spreading hurtful gossip about others.
This week the entire sixth-grade class at Forestview Middle School in Baxter participated in a Youth Frontiers Courage Retreat Tuesday through today, an event that promoted values and building character sponsored almost entirely through an $8,000 donation provided by a community member who wished to remain anonymous.
Students paid $4 each to help pay for food and other minor costs associated with the retreat hosted in the youth building at the Heritage Assemblies of God Church, which donated its large gymnasium for the retreat. Each of the 480 sixth-graders attended for one day, divided into teams for the day-long retreat.
Marti Robertson, a parent volunteer, led a small-group discussion of Forestview sixth-graders Wednesday at the Heritage Assemblies of God Youth Building. The Youth Frontiers Courage Retreat conducted for sixth-graders this week was meant to strengthen student values and character by teaching them to act with courage to stand up for what is right. Brainerd Dispatch/ Nels Norquist» Purchase reprints of this photo.
Trudi Storbakken, a Forestview fifth/sixth-grade counselor, had experienced a Youth Frontiers retreat at a former school she worked at eight years ago and had always wanted to bring the program to Brainerd. Youth Frontiers is a Minneapolis-based nonprofit organization that delivers programs to schools to improve school climate and strengthen student character.
She was contacted by the organization and was told an anonymous donor in Brainerd wished to sponsor a courage retreat. The goal of the retreat is to create a more inclusive school climate, reduce bullying and help students stand up for their values and beliefs. Youth Frontiers encourages schools to host the courage retreat at a site away from their school.
"It's just a fabulous day," Storbakken said of the retreat. "They have fun and laugh and hear really powerful words and how to treat other people. That's what courage is, to be who you are and do the right thing. They're at such an age where they're trying to figure out who they are."
Students engaged in interactive games at the start of each day, to help break the ice and build a sense of community. Youth Frontiers members John Sandahl, Michelle Morse and Debra Grahn spoke to students about social fears and the pressure they feel to follow the crowd. They spoke about courage and how important it is to choose to act with courage despite their fears. Three times during the day the students met in small groups with a parent volunteer group leader to have more in-depth discussions about fear and courage within their school. Eighteen parents volunteered to help with the retreat.
The Youth Frontiers Courage Retreat for Forestview sixth-graders Tuesday through Friday at Heritage Assemblies of God Youth Building taught students that it takes courage to stand up for personal values. Brainerd Dispatch/Nels Norquist» Purchase reprints of this photo.
At the end of each day, the students participated in a closing activity called, "The Pebble in the Pond," where students and school staff members fill out an "Act of Courage" card and shared with the group how they plan to act with courage to make their school a better place. They then dropped a pebble in a bowl of water, signifying the positive ripple effect of a simple act of courage.
"We ask them to step out of their comfort zones, to think about how they are treating each other," said Sandahl. "The goal is to ask everybody in the room by the end of the day to commit to an act of courage."
"I'm going to stand up for other people," Maci Barnes, 11, said of her act of courage.
"I'm going to start helping people more," said Danielle Sarff, 11. "Be more nice to people."
"If there's a new kid in school, I'm going to go and sit with them at lunch if they're alone," said Laura Kaul, 12.
Storbakken said students were enthusiastic about the retreat.
"I learned about not bullying people, just be your own person," said Jared Magstadt, 12.
JODIE TWEED can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5858.
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