Kindness Retreat connects region’s youthsWORTHINGTON — The First Baptist Church gymnasium in Worthington was converted into an interactive classroom for area fifth-graders Thursday.
WORTHINGTON — The First Baptist Church gymnasium in Worthington was converted into an interactive classroom for area fifth-graders Thursday.
Students spent the day — and others will also do so today — at the Youth Frontiers Kindness Retreat, an annual event sponsored by the Nobles County Integration Collaborative (NCIC).
Lakeyta Potter, NCIC integration and youth development coordinator, said the group covers the $7,000 cost, in order to provide a collaborative learning experience for the students.
“They learn how to make their school environment feel inclusive and welcoming, and how can they stop bullying and show kindness,” Potter said.
Whether students have been bullied, have bullied someone else or have been a bystander, Potter said it’s important to show kindness to everyone in order to have a safe learning environment at school.
Connie Erlandson, a special education paraprofessional at Worthington Middle School, attended the retreat Thursday and said it worked out well for all students.
“I think it’s great the kids get to know other children,” Erlandson said. “They are learning that it’s possible to get along regardless of your age or where you’re from.”
Josh Cleveland, a retreat staff musician with Youth Frontiers, said the Minneapolis-based group travels around the country, but mainly focuses on the Midwest.
“Our goal is to make sure (the students) only use kindness for a full day, so when they leave here, they start doing more kind actions for their classmates,” Cleveland said.
To reach this goal, they use a “kindness boomerang,” which involves students “throwing” kindness, and getting it back, Cleveland explained.
Games, live music and dancing get students interested, Cleveland said.
They also break into small groups, led by high school students from the five schools represented.
Potter picked the leaders from a pool of applications. She looks for prior leadership experience and role model capabilities.
Cleveland said the small group session is a crowd favorite. The younger kids enjoy getting attention from the leaders, he said.
Worthington High School sophomore Elizabeth Mendez, one of Thursday’s leaders, explained the importance of the retreat.
“(Students) need to start at a young age learning to be kind to each other, and learn that people are different,” she said.
Mendez said her group was actively discussing the issues, and that she’s thankful for the opportunity.
Potter’s favorite part about the event is getting students from different cultures and backgrounds together to interact.
She also enjoys the first part of the day, when the high school leaders make a tunnel for the fifth-graders to walk through and get cheered on.
Cleveland said the Youth Frontiers staff includes musicians, theater professionals, social workers, and those working in ministries and child advocacy groups.
“It’s an extensive interview process,” Cleveland said. “We mix and match our teams and it seems to work well.”
While the basic structure remains, Cleveland said the retreat changes a bit each year, based on teacher feedback.
“If we get a suggestion we can implement it,” Cleveland said. “We’re always an organic group.”
His favorite part is at the end of the day, when students share what they learned.
“That’s when we see kids start to realize some things they might have been doing that weren’t so kind,” Cleveland said.
Teachers take a follow-up packet with them, which enables them to continue going over important aspects of the retreat, Cleveland said.
“Kindness is something everyone deserves whether you think they do or not,” Cleveland said.
He said this is an important lesson for younger generations because it seems to have a domino effect moving forward.
“We love doing it,” Cleveland said. “It’s so fun to watch the kids’ faces change from (wondering) what this is, to the end of the day when they share and buy into the (kindness) idea.”
Daily Globe Reporter Kayla Strayer may be reached at 376-7322.