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Students participate in courage-building retreat

(Alyson Buschena/Daily Globe) Youth Frontiers staff encourage students to act with moral courage and identify peer pressures during a courage-building retreat for area seventh-grade students Wednesday at American Reformed Church in Worthington.

WORTHINGTON -- For the Cowardly Lion, courage was a gift from the Wizard of Oz, but at a two-day retreat, local seventh-grade students learned that courage is about choice and commitment.

The Courage Retreat, hosted by the Nobles County Integration Collaborative and lead by Youth Frontiers staff, encourages students to act with moral courage and identify the social fears and peer pressures that impede responsible decision-making.

Students from Worthington, Adrian, Southwest Star Concept, Ellsworth, Fulda and Round Lake -- Brewster were invited to participate.

"We invited all Nobles County member schools to come to the event" said Integration Program Manager Soom Chandaswang, who has worked at the Integration Collaborative for three years.

To accommodate the almost 300 students, the activity was spread over Tuesday and Wednesday and held at the American Reformed Church, Worthington.

Both days started with 'ice breaker' games to get the students comfortable with one another and encourage them to start thinking about courage.

The students were then mixed with the other schools and placed into small groups.

"We try to integrate the students from different schools and try to get an even number of boys and girls and ethnicities (in each group)," Chandaswang said.

The rest of the day was spent talking through various topics and situations, focusing on fear and courage.

"Throughout the day they will talk about courage, respect, being kind to one another -- really representing their school. At the end, they will have a session where they will come together at the end," Chandaswang said.

The day ends with students making goals for how they would like to display courage in their lives and being given the opportunity to share their goal with the whole group.

The goals are varied and can relate to "the school setting, with their friends, with their peers, peer pressure, to stand up for one another against bullies, things like that," Chandaswang said.

Chandaswang mentioned one girl who decided her goal was to stand up for a friend who gets picked on every day at school. Ultimately, the goals are very personal for each of the students and reflect their experience at the retreat.

"It touches kids in different ways, and their goal is whatever they get from the retreat," she said.

To help make the day a success, 48 high school volunteers also came from a local schools to work with the seventh-graders.

Each high school leader had to fill out an application to be accepted as a volunteer.

Chandaswang said the application asks questions about the students' academic success and other experiences.

"We want to make sure they are good leaders," she said.

This year, the Integration Collaborative received so many applications that some of the high school leaders were paired together to work with the younger students.

Worthington junior Blake Schroeder said this was his first time helping with the Courage Retreat.

"I remember the Courage Retreat from when I was a seventh-grader and thought it would be cool to help," he said.

Schroeder said his group of seventh-graders had been doing well so far.

"We have some really talkative ones and some that just like to listen, but they're warming up to each other," he said.

The Nobles County Integration Collaborative hosts a similar program for fifth-grade students called the "Kindness Retreat," and this year they plan to host their first "Respect Retreat," a new program for ninth-graders.

Each of the programs are led by retreat presenters from Youth Frontiers, a Minneapolis-St. Paul organization that seeks to create positive school communities where students can thrive emotionally, socially and academically.

As a nonprofit organization, Chandaswang said the programs are part of the Integration Collaborative's general budget and are funded through the state.

The Nobles County Integration Collaborative offers a variety of programs and also educates students about financial aid and scholarship opportunities.

"We don't just connect with the kids, we connect with the whole family," Chandaswang said.

Daily Globe Reporter Alyson Buschena may be reached at


Alyson Buschena
Alyson joined the Daily Globe newsroom staff after spending a year in Latin America. A native of Fulda and graduate of the University of Northwestern, she has a bachelor's degree in English with a dual concentration in Literature and Writing and a minor in Spanish. At the Daily Globe, Alyson covers the crime beat as well as Pipestone and Murray counties, community news and feature stories. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling, reading, and cooking. More of Alyson's writing can be found at
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