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Area students go on a ‘respect retreat’

WORTHINGTON -- Area students were treated to a 'Respect Retreat' Thursday, an event that not only aims to be a fun time for students, but an educational experience that teaches respect and discourages bullying and discrimination.

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Todd Maas, lead retreat facilitator and manager at Youth Frontiers, speaks to 232 area ninth graders Thursday. (Karl Evers-Hillstrom / Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON - Area students were treated to a ‘Respect Retreat’ Thursday, an event that not only aims to be a fun time for students, but an educational experience that teaches respect and discourages bullying and discrimination.

In attendance at the American Reformed Church were 232 ninth grade students from Heron Lake-Okabena, Adrian and Worthington schools.

After initial icebreaker activities, students were divided into eight groups of 29, where specially selected mentors - juniors and seniors in high school - led the underclassmen in discussions.  

Students talked among themselves about having empathy for others, and how to protect vulnerable friends and classmates.

Minneapolis-based Youth Frontiers leads the event on a daily basis for kids in grades 4-12.

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Retreat Musician Preston Gunderson MC’d fun activities in the morning and later performed his own silly version of popular songs in the afternoon, while Todd Maas, lead retreat facilitator and manager, was the main speaker.

Though most of the activities were fun and playful, Maas had a serious tone when speaking to students toward the end of the event. He spoke against making fun of others for their ethnicity, height, weight, disability or any trait that might make them ‘different’ or ‘weird.’

“We put judgments on people all the time,” Maas said. “Maybe it’s time to change that.”

He also stressed that students speak up or help out when they see their classmates being made fun of or taken advantage of.

“Some of you walk down the hallways and you see things happen that break your heart,” Maas said. “You’re like ‘I hate when we treat each other like this,’ but you don’t do anything about it. Stop and get involved … it’s not enough to not get involved.”

Overall, students agreed they came away from the event knowing more about respect.

“In our groups, we talked a lot about how to respect others and how you can change situations around you,” Worthington student Taylor Gerdes said.

Worthington student Brianna Washington felt it reminded her of the movie ‘Pay It Forward.’ In the movie, a seventh grade student named Trevor creates a plan for "paying forward" favors, where the recipient of a favor does a favor for three others, rather than paying the favor back. The movie lays out just how difficult it can be to get people to do the right thing, a phenomenon Washington said is a problem in the real world as well.

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At the very least, everyone agreed it was a nice break from the average school day.

“Much better,” said Adrian student John Heidebrink. “It was fun.”

The retreat was organized by the Nobles County Integration Collaborative.

Collaborative coordinator Soom Chandaswang said this time the retreat was special, as it’s the first time Worthington High School has participated in the event. That’s because Worthington High School Principal Joshua Noble was the first principal to be on board with the program.

“I know class time is important, but these types of events are a great experience for the kids too,” Noble said.

The event takes place today with a new group of ninth graders from Ellsworth, Fulda and Worthington schools filling the church gym to experience the retreat.

“Our freshman class is so big, so half of them will be here today, half of them tomorrow,” Noble said. “We don’t want to overwhelm the room with one room of students, we want them to interact with other schools too.”

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