One by one seventh graders stood up, walked to the middle of a huge circle of their peers from RVMS, Cedar Mountain and Springfield and shared their plan to stand up for what is right in their school.
Some said they were going to speak up when they saw students being bullied, while others said they were going to stand up for themselves and for others because they knew what it was like to be bullied.
These students had gathered in the RVMS/HS gym to take part in a Youth Frontiers program which was coordinated through the Cottonwood River Integration Collaborative. The intent of the collaborative is to bring member school districts together in environments to talk about cultural literacy issues.
One of the avenues the collaborative has used is Youth Frontiers, a Minneapolis based, non-profit group that provides programs in schools that challenge students to “think deeply about their character and behavior.”
Among those character traits addressed is courage, which was the topic for the seventh grade program.
In addition to the seventh grade program a similar presentation was made recently for fifth graders from RVMS and Springfield. That program talked about kindness.
Those character traits, said John Sandahl, one of the Youth Frontiers presenters, are nice to talk about, but what is even more important is acting them out in life. That, he agreed, is not always easy to do, but it is the right thing to do.
Sandahl, along with Josh Johnson and Hannah Tjoflat, led the discussions with the fifth and seventh grade students during the day-long sessions, with the assistance of high-school students.
The high school students led small group discussions with the younger students, and Sandahl said having those older students take part is intentional.
Those older students are the role models for younger students. Having high school students there to talk about the issues creates a greater sense of connection with the students they might not gain if they just had adults telling them what they need to do.
Youth Frontiers was established in 1987 by John Cavanaugh, after he was approached by a high school sophomore in Montana.
That student asked him what he could do to stop those who were making fun of her every day.
Over the past 25 years, Youth Frontiers has traveled to schools across the nation in an effort to help “foster safe, positive school communities where students and educators can thrive emotionally, socially and, therefore, academically.”
Statistics show there are more than 2.7 million students who experience bullying of some form at school every day, and finding ways to encourage those who see the bullying to help stop it begins with providing students with the character traits and tools to stand up.
Page 2 of 2 - What might seem basic, such as just being nice to everyone and treating others with respect, is something that can be a challenge for some students.
“It is a lot easier to follow the crowd,” said Sandahl, adding Youth Frontiers helps give students a way to know what to do and how to do it. “It is our job to facilitate the conversation and to help students see the dangers of bullying.
Students were encouraged to practice what they learned, not only with their friends but with everyone they meet, whether it is in the classroom, hallways or even at lunch.
“It doesn’t help if it is just talk,” said Tjoflat. “Push yourself. It is going to be hard at first, but it gets easier the more you do it.”