Convincing high school students to skip in front of their peers may not be an easy task, but getting them to talk about their feelings may be even more difficult.
Youth Frontiers accomplished both with the freshman class of Brookfield East High School last week.
Youth Frontiers, a nonprofit organization dedicated to building positive student environments, is a Minnesota-based educational program that visits schools in the Midwest.
Leaders of the program spend the day with students, encouraging them to interact with one another through games and activities — like skipping — in order to get them comfortable enough to discuss serious issues.
For Brookfield East, the freshman "retreat" in the gymnasium focused on respect.
"We wanted the program to provide a sense of community in the (freshman class)," said guidance counselor Michelle McKenna. "This teaches them about self-respect and how to respect others.
"It's much more than just 'bullying is bad.' The program really gets kids to speak honestly and some tears are shed — it's a very beautiful experience."
Students were often asked to pair up with multiple peers to accomplish a task, forcing them to interact with more than just their friends.
"Our philosophy is: when in doubt, freak them out," said Jonny Herchert, staff musician and presenter for the Youth Frontiers retreat. "The games are designed to get the kids mingling with each other."
"The students had limited knowledge of what this retreat would be, and I think that was a good thing," said Associate Principal Jeremy Martin. "Some of the kids really surprised me" by stepping outside their comfort zone.
After the retreat, students were then asked to set goals for themselves. The school will ask them about their goals 30 days later and see if "the retreat resonated with them," McKenna said.
"Respect can't be learned in a day, obviously, but these retreats can remind students to be more respectful, and they can look back on them and remember that they had a fun day (at the retreat)," Herchert said. "They definitely have an impact."
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