Respect retreat seeks to reduce bullying

NEW ULM – What gives us the right to judge someone – based on the few things we know about them?

We probably know very little about what goes on behind the scenes of someone’s life; everybody has a story, and that story makes it easier or more difficult for them to go through each day. We have the ability to make it easier, or to make more difficult for them; the power to lead down a specific path. We have the power to “stand up,” instead of “stand by”…

These and other thought-provoking ideas were raised and discussed during a Respect Retreat for 10th-graders from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Wednesday at the National Guard Armory. The event was conducted by Youth Frontiers, a character education organization in the Upper Midwest, in partnership with New Ulm High School. The program sought to reduce bullying and build a more respectful school culture.

During the first hour of the retreat, the students engaged in interactive activities loaded with loud music and games. The interactive component sought to bring together students who might not otherwise interact, facilitators explained.

Following the warm-up, the students were introduced to a succession of character and bullying messaging and exercises. The students made class lists of the top 10 respectful goals to pursue and the top 10 disrespectful things to avoid. They developed and wrote up personal goals about whom they want to be; why they want to be that person; and what steps they would take to become that individual.

Emotion intensified during the last hour, as participants talked about character, bullying, consequences and apologies and honored others who have made a difference. As participants shared experiences and viewpoints around a fictional campfire symbolized by a candle, the retreat ended on a very personal note for many.

The event offered participants an opportunity to “hit a pause button” – to re-focus and re-define themselves as individuals and as a class.

Youth Frontiers delivers programs that seek to “build positive school communities and strengthen student character in schools across the country, through initiatives that focus on the importance of being respected and valued,” states the organization. Youth Frontiers’ retreats teach students how to incorporate the values of kindness, courage, respect and integrity into their personal and school lives. The Twin Cities-based organization aims to strengthen core values, confront negative behaviors and enable students to recognize the consequences of their actions.

Last school year, the nonprofit group held more than 700 retreats for more than 110,000 students and educators. Since its inception in 1987, Youth Frontiers has reached more than 1.3 million students.

Bullying remains a key issue and can have serious negative consequences for students not just while they are in school but also throughout their lives, according to Youth Frontiers. According to the National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center, almost 30 percent of youth (more than 5.7 million) in the United States are estimated to be involved in bullying – as either a bully or a target of bullying.

The issue of bullying is complicated by the lack of intervention from adults and peers, say officials.

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