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Students take aim with kindness

Fifth graders Shannon Riley and Natalie White hug counselor Carrie Hennessey during a kindness retreat at Bryant Elementary School Feb. 3 led by Youth Frontiers. Students were challenged to show kindness daily and thank others when they do something nice. Maria Lockwood

Fifth grade students at Bryant Elementary School tested their aim Feb. 3 during a day-long retreat on kindness.

"Kindness is like a boomerang," said Andrew Zhao with Youth Frontiers, who led the retreat. "You've got to throw it out there for it to come back to you."

But a boomerang is hard to throw, so practice is needed. The same goes for kindness.

"Because then people know that it's actually important," said fifth-grader Karli Williams. "It's not just a word people say."

As the day wrapped up, the students were asked how they will throw kindness out to others in the future.

Listening to teachers, respecting others, standing up for those who are being picked on and using manners made the list.

Jeramy Theisen said he will compliment his teacher and classmates every morning.

"I'm going to thank the janitors for cleaning after everyone," said his classmate Dylan Nelson.

The children also gave out thank yous to classmates, teachers and friends for "never judging," for the things they say "to brighten everyone's day," "because he helped me" and "for always being my friend."

They apologized for spreading rumors, excluding others, yelling at people and being disrespectful.

It was the most powerful piece of the retreat, said teacher Sarah Hanhan.

"They have a chance to pledge to be nicer to teachers and students," she said. "They have a chance to say 'sorry,' which they usually don't take time to do."

The retreat left a positive message.

"Not all heroes have super powers," said fifth grader Natalie White. "Everybody can be a hero."

It can be as simple as a "thank you" or having someone open the door for you. Fifth grader Brayden Simmons said it's important to be kind both in and out of school.

"If there's someone feeling down, if you see them and you don't really know who they are, just give them a boost," he said.

Youth Frontiers, based out of Minneapolis, Minn., leads about 850 retreats a year for students in fourth through 12th grade, focusing on kindness, courage, respect, responsibility, wisdom or honor.

The kindness retreat flowed smoothly at Bryant, thanks to the teachers and high school students who helped lead small groups. The teens, members of the Youth Leadership Program offered by the Superior-Douglas County Area Chamber of Commerce, called the retreat amazing, fun and uplifting.

"I wish I would have known this when I was in fifth grade," said Superior High School senior Elyse Anderson.

Her biggest take-away of the day was the ICI maneuver, designed to break up bullying. It involves interrupting the situation, complimenting the person being bullied and inviting them away.

Anderson said a friend's kindness on a bench years ago will always be remembered. Both girls were dealing with the death of someone close to them.

"So we sat on the bench, every day before recess and talked about ice cream to get my mind off him," Anderson said. "We did that for weeks."

The fifth graders lined up to give the high school leaders high fives before returning to the classroom.

"I think they'll do well in carrying this forward," Hanhan said.

The kindness retreat and a January courage retreat for eighth grade students at Superior Middle School were paid for by an anonymous donor, Hanhan said.

The teachers plan to send photos to the donor, along with a kind "Thank you." She hopes their aim will be spot-on.