Retreating into kindness, fostering goodwill and respect

Longing for a peaceful learning environment and determined to foster goodwill and respect, McKinley Elementary School, Ham Lake, partnered with Youth Frontiers and staged a Kindness Retreat for fourth-graders Oct. 23.

Longing for a peaceful learning environment and determined to foster goodwill and respect, McKinley Elementary School, Ham Lake, partnered with Youth Frontiers and staged a Kindness Retreat for fourth-graders Oct. 23.

Longing for a peaceful learning environment and determined to foster goodwill and respect, McKinley Elementary School, Ham Lake, partnered with Youth Frontiers and staged a Kindness Retreat for fourth-graders Oct. 23.

Games and music, dance, storytelling and conversation filled the high-energy day-long retreat with the aim “to help build a more respectful school culture,” said Rita Boersma, retreat director for Youth Frontiers.

Kids met in small groups, mentored and directed by members of Blaine High School’s HOSA (Health Occupations Students of America) group, and listed the many and various ways they have endured or witnessed bullying at McKinley.

Those lists included things like shoving and name-calling, being left out and ignored, spreading rumors, talking behind your back and making fun of you.

“At Youth Frontiers, we say bullying is any time you use your power to hurt someone. That could be physical, verbal or silent bullying,” said Boersma.

Silent bullying happens when someone is left out or ignored, she said.

“We are here to help these kids understand the effects of bullying and give them tools to prevent it, know how to respond when they see bullying happen, know what they can do to make it stop,” Boersma said.

The lessons sunk in. “Aha” moments became enlightened hours and McKinley fourth-graders learned to stand up for each other and to make their school a better place.

“I don’t like it when my friends pick on me, even if they’re only kidding. It still doesn’t feel good,” one fourth-grader said, quietly watching her classmates gather in small groups and then joining them for another Kindness Retreat activity.

“Kindness is like a boomerang. If you want to catch it, you have to throw it out there,” Youth Frontiers retreat staff member Jean Culp told the youngsters.

She then challenged them to “throw out kindness boomerangs to other kids, to your teachers, your brothers and sisters, your neighbors.”

“You’ll be glad you did – and you’re going to love it when that boomerang comes back to you,” Culp said.

Last year, Youth Frontiers, a nationally renowned non-profit, held more than 650 retreats for nearly 100,000 students and educators.

Boersma said Youth Frontiers will be doing retreats at other Anoka-Hennepin schools this year. To learn whether your child’s school partners with Youth Frontiers this year, contact the school’s administration or principal’s secretary.

Youth Frontiers has three grade-specific tiers, each offering targeted themes.

In fourth- and fifth-grade, kids learn about the importance of kindness at a young age. Hearing how their own actions can make a difference, they become empowered to end bullying in their school.

In middle school, youth learn how to overcome their own fears so that they can find the moral courage to stand up for someone else who is being picked on.

In high school, Youth Frontiers teaches self-respect and the importance of respecting others. The students take ownership for creating a safe and respectful school culture.

Founded in 1987 and based in the Twin Cities, Youth Frontiers, Inc. is a non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to building the character of young people.

In addition, Youth Frontiers provides online resources for parents to help foster their children’s positive peer interactions.

Youth Frontiers is funded through a partnership between schools and private foundations, corporations and individuals.

To learn more about Youth Frontiers, visit www.youthfrontiers.org.

Sue Austreng is at sue.austreng@ecm-inc.com

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