Editor’s Note: The following guest column comes from the Main Street School of Performing Arts.
To help build a more respectful school culture, Youth Frontiers—the leading character education organization in the Upper Midwest—partnered with Main Street School of Performing Arts (MSSPA) to host a comprehensive retreat for 9th – 10th grade students on October 26 to help reduce bullying. MSSPA’s Leadership Group of upper classmen served as group leaders for the retreat. Through initiatives that focus on the importance of being respected and valued, Youth Frontiers delivers programs that build positive school communities and strengthen student character in schools across the country.
For more than 24 years, Youth Frontiers’ successful and highly regarded retreats seek to teach students how to incorporate the values of kindness, courage, respect and integrity into their personal and school lives. The Twin Cities-based organization aims to strengthen core values, confront negative behaviors, and enable students to recognize the consequences of their actions. Last year, the nationally renowned nonprofit held more than 600 retreats for nearly 100,000 students and educators. Since its inception, Youth Frontiers has reached more than one million students.
“We are thrilled about this partnership with Youth Frontiers, and sharing their program with our students,” said Barbara Wornson, Main Street School of Performing Arts Director. “Youth Frontiers is a highly acclaimed, nonpartisan organization. They have worked with students for more than 24 years, helping build positive school communities. Bullying remains a vital topic, and we were so pleased to have the Youth Frontiers team working with us.” Wornson continued, “MSSPA prides itself on providing a nurturing and supportive environment. We are a family here, and this program helped reinforce the important messages we strive to teach every day.”
Youth Frontiers offers high-impact retreats for schools, using interactive games, music, small discussion groups and gripping stories to break down walls between young people, helping them to see each other differently. Throughout the retreat day, students begin to exhibit traits of true character – mending relationships, stating acts of courage and respecting themselves and others. Comprehensive follow-up materials also provide a way for educators and students to extend the impact of the retreat.
Youth Frontiers staff understand the challenges students face every day in their often-complicated lives. They also know that values lie at the root of one’s character.
“We teach values unapologetically,” says Youth Frontiers Founder and CEO Joe Cavanaugh, who General Colin Powell has described as “a leader in our nation’s effort to rescue America’s young people.” Says Cavanaugh, “Our mission is to change the way students treat each other in every hallway, lunch line, and classroom of every school in America. We are not succeeding as a society if our children receive an ‘A’ in Math... and an ‘F’ in life.”
Educators agree. “I would give up a day of academics anytime for this organization,” said educator Tobi Kemen of Dawson-Boyd Middle School in Dawson, Minn.
Bullying remains prevalent challenge
Bullying remains a key issue and can have serious negative consequences for students not just while they’re in school, but also throughout their lives. According to the National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center, almost 30 percent of youth (more than 5.7 million) in the United States are estimated to be involved in bullying – as either a bully or as a target of bullying.
The issue of bullying is complicated by the lack of intervention from adults and peers. As Youth Frontiers strives to create a healthier school climate in which students can thrive academically, socially and emotionally, the organization engages the 80 percent of students who aren’t bullied or bully themselves – known as “bystanders” – to no longer stand by and watch others being bullied. In a study with the University of Minnesota’s Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement, a month after a Youth Frontier’s retreat, more than eight of 10 students strongly or somewhat agree that other students are more likely to help someone who is being picked on.
“For more than two decades, I’ve been listening to kids talk about physically threatening and emotionally scarring experiences at the hands of bullies,” says Cavanaugh. “At the same time, I have witnessed how strongly our youth respond to positive messages. I know from Youth Frontiers’ own quantitative assessments that positive messages create a catalyst for change in our schools. And, for a handful of students from each class, the retreat can be a transformative event.”
Youth Frontiers has three grade-specific tiers, each offering targeted themes. In fourth and fifth grade, kids learn about the importance of kindness at a young age. Hearing how their own actions can make a difference, they become empowered to end bullying in their school. In middle school, youth learn how to overcome their own fears so that they can find the moral courage to stand up for someone else who is being picked on. In high school, Youth Frontiers teaches self-respect and the importance of respecting others. The students take ownership for creating a safe and respectful school culture.