A valuable lesson

MARSHALL – Since bullying often occurs when there are no adults present, the responsibility of putting an end to bullying then lies with each youngster present during those negative acts, Youth Frontiers representative Jared Zeigler said to Marshall Public School fifth-graders Thursday at the Marshall Area YMCA.

Zeigler was joined by Debra Grahn and Sam Soule in sharing a message of kindness to the students during the daylong retreat, which included interactive dancing, big group activities and small group activities.

“Why do you think some of this negative stuff is happening?” Zeigler said.

Students raised their hands and offered suggestions when it was their turn to share.

“I think people choose to use their energy in the wrong way,” one fifth-grade girl said.

Another student said he thought that people were too quick to judge others.

Other comments suggested that people didn’t necessarily know what another person was going through and that some people used bullying to unfairly put themselves “above” others.

Zeigler then asked the students where bullying occurs the most. Responses included: “at recess, in classrooms, between classes in the hallway, at lunch, in the locker room and in the bathroom.”

“Most of those places you mentioned have one thing in common,” he said. “There are no teachers present. Teachers are amazing people, but there’s only one of them in a class and none in some of those places you talked about. So if there are no teachers present, who is it up to to stop bullying?”

The students randomly spoke up, saying that it was each one of them.

At the prompting of Zeigler, the students chanted together: “It’s up to me” over and over again.

Zeigler then suggested that each of them do their best to stomp rumors, not send negative e-mails and try to make a new friend instead of excluding someone.

“You might learn something about someone,” he said. “We should celebrate each others’ differences instead of judging someone. If we all do that, maybe bullying will go away.”

The students were then asked what word they’d use to describe the Marshall Middle School they’d like to attend. Answers included: “fun, learning, organized, safe, awesome, friendly, happy, pretty, bully-free, confident and perfect.”

“Look at that building you described,” Zeigler said. “It’s clean and has good behavior. It seems a lot better than the one that has all that negative junk, doesn’t it?”

Grahn then asked the fifth-graders and their eighth-grade mentors to individually write down answers to three questions.

“There are three ways you can start throwing out kindness,” she said. “The first is to be kind to your teachers and classmates, by then you fill in the blank. The second is by thanking someone in this room for being a hero for you and why. Did they help you with your homework or include you? And the third is by saying you’re sorry to someone and why.”

The students took time to capture their thoughts down on paper and then some took the opportunity to stand up and share their messages with the entire group.

“I want to thank Isaac for always cheering me up during the day,” one boy said.

One girl thanked Youth Frontiers for sharing their positive message with everyone.

Another student said she wanted to stand up for everyone who is being bullied, whether or not she liked that person or not.

A few students bravely shared their apologies with the group. After thanking his teammates for “having his back,” one student said he was sorry to one of his teammates, for “making fun of him at practice and for talking behind his back.”

Eighth-grade mentor Jake Hess shared that he wanted to stand up for what was right.

“That was amazing,” Grahn said when the students finishing sharing.

Soule then announced that he had one final challenge for the fifth-graders.

“We want you to practice throwing out the kindness boomerang,” he said. “It might not work the best at first but keep practicing. Show more respect or try harder to include more people.”

Fifth-grader Jack Bly took the Youth Frontiers’ message to heart.

“I think one thing I will do is invite someone, who maybe doesn’t sit by many people at lunch, who doesn’t have very many friends, to sit by me,” Bly said. “I think it’s very important to be kind.”

Bly said he learned some valuable pointers at the retreat in addition to having a good time.

“I learned how to deal with bullies and to be more kind to my friends and classmates,” he said. “I thought it was very fun. And I hope I get to be a leader when I’m in eighth grade.”

In past year, Marshall High School students led the small group sessions with the fifth-graders, but the decision was made to put the responsibility on the eighth-graders this year, event organizer Amanda Pederson said.

“They were part of this three years ago, and they know what it’s all about,” she said. “It’s a great time for all of them. (The eighth-graders) were amazing. It just goes to show that we have awesome kids here in Marshall.”

Youth Frontiers, which was founded in 1987 by Joe Cavanaugh and based in Minneapolis, strives to partner with schools to build positive communities where students thrive socially, emotionally and academically.

This year, Youth Frontiers will facilitate 740 retreats for 100,000 students and educators across the country. The organization’s vision is to change the way young people treat each other in school so that the future becomes a better place for everyone. For that same reason, Pederson noted that school organizers have continually stressed the importance of kindness and a bullying-free environment in its educational system.

“We’ll go back and follow up throughout the year on this stuff,” Pederson said. “We just keep bringing it back. Then in seventh grade, they do another trip like this, but it’s called ‘Courage.’ So we try to just keep building on it throughout their whole middle school years.”

Fifth-grader Emily Pehrson said she had a great experience at the retreat.

“It was awesome,” she said. “I liked that they taught us how to be kind. I learned to not bully others and to be kind.”

The biggest challenge for organizers is the issue of funding, Pederson said. This year, the PTA helped with part of the funding, along with MMS, she said.

“It’s something we strongly believe in,” Pederson said. “We feel it’s that important, especially with everything that is happening in the world today, to just remind them to try something good and see where it takes them.”