Eighth-graders were put into small groups with a high school mentor during the courage retreat Thursday. The goal of the groups was to separate the kids into groups of people they wouldn’t normally talk with. -- Scott Schmeltzer/Albert Lea Tribune

Archived Story

Bullied: A day for courage

Published 9:55am Friday, December 3, 2010
Graphic by Stacey Bahr/Albert Lea Tribune

The goal for the courage retreat was for each student to leave the workshop with an act of courage they will try to work on.

Southwest Middle School eighth-graders participated in a courage retreat led by Youth Frontiers Thursday and today. One half of all eighth-graders went each day, and the event was held at United Methodist Church in Albert Lea.

An eighth-grade student shares his story during the “Pebble in the Pond” part of the courage retreat Thursday. -- Scott Schmeltzer/Albert Lea Tribune

The retreat included three leaders from Youth Frontiers and 24 volunteers from the junior and senior class of Albert Lea High School. Many of the volunteers had been to a courage retreat when they were in eighth grade.

“There’s issues with eighth-graders getting along,” senior Jessica Sanderson said. “It equals everyone out.”

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Sanderson said she thought the day would go well, and that from her experience it helped stop bullying somewhat because students were able to talk to other students and learn more about each other.

Southwest Principal Marsha Langseth said she enjoyed being part of the courage retreat and said it’s happened each year for six years. She said she enjoyed the ending ceremony where students can choose to tell the group what their act of courage will be.

“It can be very moving,” Langseth said.

Langseth also said she liked that older students can be part of the day as well, because they’re role models for the eighth-graders.

“Eighth-graders look up to the high schoolers,” Langseth said.

Kids were encouraged to introduce themselves, give “awesome high fives” and play thumb wars. -- Scott Schmeltzer/Albert Lea Tribune

She said she hopes the courage retreat makes the students respect each other more and ultimately maybe stop some acts of bullying.

“Kids are able to decide what courage means,” Langseth said.

Students learn more about each other during the small group discussions and are able to find out that others have the same fears and hopes that they do.

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Youth Frontiers is a nonprofit organization based in Minneapolis that provides retreats with themes like courage, respect, kindness and wisdom. Each retreat is focused on a certain age group.

Three presenters came Thursday and today to lead the courage retreat for Albert Lea eighth-graders. Dana Stack, Sam Soule and Kesiah Kolbow each took turns talking with the students and organizing activities.

Kolbow introduced the small-group discussions and said the three goals for the day were to respect each other, take a risk and be real. She encouraged the students to be themselves and let others be themselves.

“Just be you today and be happy with who you are,” Kolbow told the students. “Let other people be who they are.”

In the first small group students were asked to describe a time when they felt scared and to name five ways peer pressure affects people in their class, among other discussion questions. -- Scott Schmeltzer/Albert Lea Tribune

She told the students that it’s important they know that someone at the school cares for them and is worried about them.

“They see your potential and want you to be successful,” Kolbow said.

Stack said the program starts out with about an hour of games and activities to help the students buy into their message of respect and openness. After the first hour the students sit down in small groups with classmates picked at random.

“We try to break down their social groups,” Stack said

Soule said he liked having the smaller groups together so the students can talk about their fears and hopes, which makes students realize they’re similar.

“We talk about everyday courage,” Soule said.

The retreat ended with each student writing down an act of courage, and everyone had an opportunity to share theirs with the group. The leaders called the activity “Pebble in the Pond.” Each student was able, if they wanted, to share the act of courage they planned to do in front of the group and then were able to drop a pebble into a bowl of water. Dropping the pebble in the water signified the ripple effect that acts of courage could inspire in others.

Eighth-graders run around and greet each other during the first part of the courage retreat Thursday. The leaders had kids greet each other many different ways to break the ice before small group discussions. -- Scott Schmeltzer/Albert Lea Tribune

Some of the acts of courage students shared included wanting to help stop bullying when they saw it in the halls. Two students said they wouldn’t support “sevvy-slapping” any longer. (“Sevvy-slapping” is slapping seventh-graders or knocking seventh-graders’ books out of their hands.) One student said, “we’re all just people like everyone else,” and said everyone should be treated the same.

Other students spoke about not ignoring others or their goals to make friends with other students who have fewer friends. The high school volunteers were encouraged to share their courage acts as well, and one said she would stop stereotyping younger students for being immature because talking with eighth-graders made her see they’re not immature. Another student said that even though his good friends are bullies, he could no longer stand by while they pick on others and said he plans to put a stop to it the next time he sees it.

The leaders ended the day by thanking all those involved and letting the students know they could keep trying courage acts and character challenges by connecting with Youth Frontiers on Facebook or on their website at www.youthfrontiers.org.

This is the fourth installment in a series about bullying that appears each Friday in the Tribune. Next Friday’s edition will have an installment about the differences in bullying in elementary and high schools.

Youth Frontiers retreat leader Kesiah Kolbow talks with some Southwest Middle School eighth-graders Thursday at the courage retreat. One half of the eighth-grade class went to the retreat Thursday, while the other half went today. -- Scott Schmeltzer/Albert Lea Tribune

Previous articles in the bullied series

Focus group discusses bullying
Cyber bullies not welcome
Southwest Middle battles bullying issue