MARSHALL ? Fifth-graders from Marshall Middle School spend the day practicing their kindness skills while attending a Youth Frontiers Kindness Retreat Monday at the Marshall Area YMCA.
"It's going good," fifth-grader Yasmin Galvan said. "We've talked about kindness and we talked about how it was better to be kind than to be a bully."
Under the enthusiastic guidance of Youth Frontiers retreat directors Megan Lee-Erickson, Josh Johnson and Hannah Tjoflat, the students danced, sang, played games, talked in small circle groups and just enjoyed each other's company.
Photo by Jenny Kirk
Marshall Middle School fifth-graders danced, played games and had some serious conversations about kindness and how to treat others at the Youth Frontiers Kindness Retreat on Monday in Marshall.
"We're learning about niceness and that stuff," fifth-grader Zebediah Bergjord said.
Youth Frontiers, a non-profit organization based in the Twin Cities, partners with schools to offer a number of day-long programs, including Courage, Respect, Improved School Communities and Kindness. While the Marshall Public School district has joined together with other area schools for the retreat in the past, this year marks the first in a long time that MMS students were by themselves.
"Our goal is to have one day of kindness in this room, where everybody experiences what it's like to be treated with kindness," Lee-Erickson said. "Then, at the end of the day, everybody's going to make a commitment to one thing they can do, moving forward, to show more kindness to their classmates and to their teachers."
Youth Frontiers prides itself on building positive school communities since 1987.
"It's a very interactive day," said Lee-Erickson, who has worked with organization for eight years. "It's a light-bulb kind of a day. Is every kid going to walk away totally changed? No. But we're part of the solution. The school does a lot of other efforts to help improve school climate, so we're just one way to help, kind of remind the students."
Along with about a dozen MMS teachers, a number of Marshall High School students also served as retreat mentors throughout the day.
"We have freshman, sophomores, juniors and a senior who are giving up a day to be a positive leader," Lee-Erickson said. "WE train them in during the morning so they're all set and ready to go. They're doing an awesome job."
And it was obvious that the students did look up to the older role models.
"I liked having fun with the older kids," fifth-grader Micayla Murphy said.
Leading the small group conversations was one of the expectations of the high school helpers, and they appeared to be having as much fun as the middle school students.
"They talk about what is going on, create some empathy," Lee-Erickson said. "They share stories about when people have been hurt and give them the power to not be a bystander and help each other out instead."
After lunch, the entire group, with the exception of the teachers, joined together as one, dancing and just having a good time. Smiles were everywhere as the students followed the lead of the three directors, through the songs "Firework" by Katy Perry, the "Cupid Shuffle" and, of course, "Y.M.C.A."
"It's so neat to see the kids who are sometimes shy during school actually come out of their shell," substitute teacher Kelly Deutz said. "It's so good to see them feel good about themselves."
Afterwards, Johnson led a whole-group session geared toward making pledges. Fifth-grader Kathryn Schaeffer was the first to stand in front of her peer, holding onto the kindness boomerang, and pledging to make including people a priority. Another middle school student pledged to smile more at her classmates.
"Your words are powerful, and when you say them, they mean something," Johnson said. "You may also think smiling is a small thing, but it can mean a lot to somebody who is having a bad day."
Fifth-grader Jaden Gannott pledged to give out more compliments.
Johnson said no one had to verbally take the pledge, but they could just work on throwing out the kindness boomerang.