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Local students discover their courage

Students interact during one of the small group sessions at Wednesday's Courage Retreat at the First Baptist Church in Worthington. Seventh-grade students from Worthington, Round Lake-Brewster, Ellsworth, Adrian and Fulda all participated in the two-day event led by Youth Frontiers. (Brian Korthals/Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON -- Somewhere between jump ropes, upbeat music and giant colored balls flying through the air, area seventh-graders learned this week that courage can be fun.

Students from Worthington, Round Lake-Brewster, Ellsworth, Adrian and Fulda gathered at the First Baptist Church on Tuesday and Wednesday for a Youth Frontiers Courage Retreat, sponsored by the Nobles County Integration Collaborative.

NCIC Coordinator Sharon Johnson said the day's purpose was twofold: to promote integration among the collaborative's member school districts and to teach students the value of courage.

"It's having students take ownership for making their school welcoming to all people," she said.

The day was filled with games and activities intended to "create a more inclusive school climate, reduce bullying and help students stand up for their values and beliefs," according to the Youth Frontiers Web site.

Adrian Middle School social studies teacher Katie Mostad said the energy and excitement among her students was tangible during the event.

"I've seen some of my students come out of their shell. It gives them an opportunity to be themselves," she said, adding that messages from the retreat can also tie into the classroom. "As we talk abut different countries or different perspectives of people, we can refer back to their experiences here."

Julia Vongphachan, a junior from Fulda High School who also helped with the fifth-grade kindness retreat last year, said students were enthusiastic about the activities.

"I think they're going to make a lot of new friends, and I think they're going to start to attempt being nicer in school," she predicted.

Worthington Middle School students Vannaly Phannara and John Martin enjoyed one activity where everyone ran through a moving jump rope in front of their peers. It represented the courage to do something without worrying what people would think if you "messed up," explained Phannara.

"We learned we should make people feel like they belong," she said.

Martin enjoyed another game: "We went around shaking people's hands, and if you were the 17th person to shake a money-holder's hand, you could win a prize," he said. "It was really fun, and we learned a lot."