It seems like bullying and poking fun are just facts of life for kids in school these days, but today’s organization doesn’t feel that needs to be the case.
In 1987, Joe Cavanaugh heard the question, “there are kids who make fun of me every day, can you do anything to stop them?” from a 10th grade girl and he took her question seriously. Since then, Cavanaugh built an organization based on the idea of fostering safe, positive school communities where students and educators can thrive emotionally, socially and, therefore, academically.
Youth Frontiers is a Minneapolis, Minnesota based nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that partners with schools to build cultures of respect where students thrive socially, emotionally and academically. They facilitate retreat programs on the values of kindness, courage, respect and responsibility. Founder and CEO Joe Cavanaugh states, “We are not succeeding as a society if our children receive an ‘A’ in Math… and an ‘F’ in life.”
There are approximately 2.7 million students who face bullying at school every day. Youth Frontiers is making a difference! So far, the organization has served more than one million youth across the country, with the vision to change the way young people treat each other in every hallway, lunch line and classroom of every school in America so that today’s young people can make tomorrow’s world better.
To accomplish their mission, Youth Frontiers offers retreat programs for students from kindergarten through 12th grade. These interactive programs are designed to have the greatest possible impact and function as a catalyst for getting students to care about character. The retreats are developmentally appropriate for each age group and take into account what stressors and issues kids may be facing at school.
The programs can be described as MTV-meets-Aristotle days, featuring loud music, team-building activities, small-group dialogues, powerful presentations and large-group sharing times. Led by professional actors, musicians and youth workers, Youth Frontiers knows how to “speak kid” in a way that students understand, and challenges students to think deeply about their character and behavior.
These retreats enhance social-emotional learning competencies like empathy, perspective-taking and conflict resolution. Eight of ten students believe that since participating in the Kindness Retreat, their peers are more likely to help someone who is being picked on. After the Respect Retreat, more students reported feeling a part of their school than before the retreat. And in focus groups, students reported the retreat leaders’ storytelling and other students’ remarks during the retreat’s closing activity helped them gain perspective.
Youth Frontiers retreats are just one piece of a school’s network of support. Comprehensive follow-up materials are customized for each age level to remind students of the themes they learned on their retreat, while challenging them to continue to stand up for respect in their schools. Youth Frontiers knows it takes more than curriculum to get kids to care about issues of character and acknowledges that it takes more than one day of each year to truly change a school’s culture. Yet, these retreats are a critical piece to the puzzle of building healthy and safe schools, and each retreat and its follow-up curriculum contribute to shaping the way students treat each other every day.
How can you help?
Youth Frontiers has opportunities for high school students and adults to be small group leaders at their retreats. Each year nearly 15,000 volunteers support their programs by leading small groups, establishing the energy and tone of the retreat activities and influencing the student participants with positive leadership. In addition, they have opportunities to visit a retreat to experience it first-hand. Since they work with kids, all volunteers do require an application and background check.
You can also provide financial support via the Youth Frontiers website. Youth Frontiers maintains affordable retreat prices for the schools they serve and this would not be possible without philanthropic support from individuals, foundations and corporate donors.
In addition, there are opportunities to stay connected with this organization though their newsletter programs. Visit their newsletter signup page to learn about their weekly character challenge that provides an activity or thought to help us think critically about kindness, courage and respect in our lives as well as newsletters for youth educators.