What do you get when you place 200 seventh grade students in one room under the leadership of 40 sophomores? A whole lot of R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
The New Ulm High School respect retreat, held Feb. 4, was designed to educate seventh grade students to respect each other, themselves, and to stand up for respect. The retreat was facilitated by 10th grade students: Kate Denney, Nina Hendel, Matt Rowley and Levi Wick. This event was made possible through a grant from First Families of Brown County. Leadership training was provided by Youth Frontier along with Character Counts at NUHS.
Tenth grade small group leaders, selected on their ability to serve as role models, began the retreat with high energy interactive games and dancing. The group leaders were instructed to be more excited than the person next to them to help the seventh grade students feel comfortable. High school teacher, Karla Hansel, said, "To do well in school, students need to be comfortable with who they are, and they need to feel physically and emotionally safe."
Interactive games and dancing build a sense of community among students.
After the warm-up, the students listened to tenth grade facilitator Matthew Rowley's talk on respect. Rowley defined respect by breaking it down into two parts: "re" meaning again, and "spect," meaning to look. He urged students to withhold judgment and to "look again." He concluded with a Jackie Robinson quote, "I am not concerned with your liking or disliking me, all I ask is that you respect me as a human being."
Then, guided by 10th grade students, the 7th grade broke into small groups to discuss their own definition of respect.
Following, sophomore Kate Denney led a large group discussion on self-respect. The students learned that respecting oneself is most difficult to do. Without self-respect, it is difficult to respect others. Denney encouraged students to stop looking at themselves negatively and look at the more prevalent positive aspects. She asked the students, why, if they were taught in Kindergarten that bullying was wrong, did they continue to bully themselves.
Next, sophomore Nina Hendel taught respecting others involves not only bully awareness, but showing consideration towards parents and teachers. Hendel told the students that even if they did not like someone, that person still deserved respect. She shared her own seventh grade experience and how that changed her way of respect. Group leader Sara Hoffman said she "felt as though the 7th graders took what we were saying to heart."
Finally, the students learned from sophomore Levi Wick that if they achieved respect for themselves and others, they could stand up for respect. Wick reminded students of Columbine High School shooting victim, Rachel Scott's challenge to start a chain reaction of kindness. Seventh grader Kodie Pastian said that "it was inspiring." Wick told students they were the ones that could make a difference by bringing respect into their lives.
High School teacher Kristi Lindquist said, "I was very impressed with the energy and professionalism with which the student leaders conducted the workshop and the willing involvement of the 7th graders. Having so many older students as positive role models for younger students can be very powerful." Seventh grader Nicholes Schultz agrees, saying "I liked talking to older kids and sharing ideas."
The day ended with time for the students to reflect on what they had learned. They were given the opportunity to share with their classmates their commitment to take action in showing more respect for themselves, for others, and to stand up for respect. The lessons learned at this retreat stayed with the students. Seventh grader Sarah Longtin believes that "it was a learning experience" and she has witnessed positive change.
NUHS Character Counts continues to promote respect, as well as, trustworthiness, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship. The students involved with the program are encouraged to share their knowledge and promote the six pillars of character. Student Jordyn Horn summed up the effects of the retreat saying, "it gave me hope that things would be better." Students ended the retreat with a familiar chant, "I say RE, you say SPECT! RE! SPECT! RE!SPECT!"
Photos submitted by Karla Hansel of New Ulm High School