Alexandria Area High School hosted a courage retreat put on by Youth Frontiers — a foundation whose mission is to provide experiences that inspire character, civility and community.

Seventh and eighth-graders from Discovery Middles School were paired with high schoolers and adult leaders to participate in community building activities, presentations, small groups and testimonial sharing.

"The courage retreat is a day to inspire middle school students to use courage, do the right thing and make responsible decisions, despite their fears," said Alexandria football and wrestling coach Jordan Scherber, "Middle school is a challenging time for all students. Giving them a day to focus solely on how to act with courage is great for their development."

Youth Frontiers — an organization out of the Twin Cities dedicated to inspire character, civility and community — held a series of events in the AAHS gym. They played high-energy music designed to get the students to break out of their shells and connect with their peers while dancing and playing. They also produced community-building activities to break down social barriers and build stronger relationships. Presentations put on by the Youth Frontier staff challenged the students to make a positive difference in their school and community.

High school and middle school students dance to high-energy music to encourage them to connect with each other.
Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press
High school and middle school students dance to high-energy music to encourage them to connect with each other. Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press

Newsletter signup for email alerts

One of the events was a jump rope exercise. All the students gathered on one side of the gym while a member of Youth Frontiers and a student leader circled a jump rope in the middle of the gym. Either individually or in groups, the students had to time the rotation of the jump rope and ran to the other end of the gym. If the rope hit a student, all who made it across had to start over.

The idea is to get the students to work together and encourage each other to complete the pressurized task and create a bond.

Seventh-graders participated in the event on Oct. 26-27, while the eighth-graders participated on Nov. 2-3.

Each day the retreat ran from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. At the end of the second day, the students shared testimonials on committing and living out the value of courage.

Some of the testimonials from the seventh-graders:

"My act of courage is to stick up for others."

"I am going to take more risks and try new things to get out of my comfort zone."

"Treat people how they want to be treated."

"Do what makes me happy instead of what others want me to do."

"Be a leader and inspire others to be positive and go in the right direction."

"Be a better friend."

"Believe in myself."

"To not be mean because God put you here to lift each other up."

At the end of the testimonials, students were encouraged to engage with each other, share their experiences and apologize to ones they have hurt.

A student stands up in front of her peers to share how she plans to be courageous. 
Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press
A student stands up in front of her peers to share how she plans to be courageous. Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press

"Many of the students walked away from the event feeling encouraged and full of positive energy," said Scherber. "Hearing the testimonies is a good indicator of the success of the retreat."

According to Scherber, the retreat was made possible with the help of Superintendent Rick Sansted and Discovery Middle School Principal Matt Aker. They coordinated dates and times with Youth Frontiers and set up busing and nutrition plans.

"Dean of Students Melissa Firme and Julie Renaud also helped with a lot of the behind-the-scenes work," said Scherber.

Youth Frontiers has been coming to Alexandria for at least 10 years, according to Scherber, and it operates retreats across the Midwest.

High school leaders will be going to the middle school to lead follow-up activities throughout the year.