At Friends School of Minnesota, we are committed to providing a holistic education, nurturing the physical, intellectual, spiritual, and social development of children. We do this in countless ways every day and through our curriculum. Here are two examples of how our students and staff worked this year to improve the social climate of middle school.
Kindness Retreat with Youth Frontiers
Every other year, Friends School of Minnesota 5th & 6th graders participate in a day-long Kindness Retreat run by a group called Youth Frontiers. It’s a day that focuses on being kind and how to be a better person, as well as, improving the social climate at FSM. This year, some of the 8th graders helped lead and facilitate the retreat.
8th Grade Capstone Project: Improving the Social Climate of Middle School
While the Kindness Retreat is great, the information isn’t always retained, and the things learned aren’t always applied long-term. So, for this year’s 8th grade Capstone project, we decided to have a follow-up retreat to continue to improve the social climate of our middle school.
To help us determine the social challenges in our 5th & 6th grades, we created a survey. The whole middle school took the survey in class, and then the 8th graders looked at the results.
We then created a Powerpoint to show the middle school. This presentation provided information about rumors, bullying and gossip. It also showed quotes from the survey about how students felt about the social climate in the middle school. Everyone was very surprised to see what their classmates thought about how students treat each other at FSM.
Some of the quotes about bullying, gossip, and rumors in the middle school were:
“I think, at times there can be bullying, not physically, but by words or silence.”
“(There is) a lot of teasing that can get out of hand.”
It didn’t make me feel good. I think people are worried about their ‘reputation’ and don’t act on what they feel is wrong because it would make them ‘uncool’.”
“(Gossiping) made me feel bad afterwards. I felt bad for the person who it was about, but just kept it to myself.”
“I laughed, but it really hurt on the inside.”
“Sometimes I feel like everyone hates me.”
“It sucks because you don’t know who to trust.”
We used information from this survey to create a Kindness Retreat of our own for 5th and 6th graders. This day focused on reminding these students to be kinder and more respectful to their classmates and friends, and how to apply the skills learned in the first Kindness Retreat to real life.
We had activities and games that practiced skills like being kind to people and speaking out against bullying and gossip. We started the day by playing games that got everyone comfortable each other and their 8th grade leaders. We also had small group activities and discussions facilitated by the 8th graders. Afterwards, we reflected on the experience and how students felt it changed the social climate for 5th & 6th.
Here are some things 5th and 6th graders had to say about the retreat:
“I learned that some things you say that don’t seem that bad to you might hurt other people’s feelings.”
“I learned that I can make new friendships if I reach out.”
“If people work together they can accomplish more.”
“This retreat gives me more confidence to hang out with other people.”
“I think I will try to be more respectful towards others.”
“This retreat will make us more aware of bullying.”
“I think kids will continue to pay more attention to stopping the negative stuff, and adding more positive things.”
“This will teach me how to be a leader.”
“I saw people encouraging each other to focus and some more branching out. I saw people talking to people that they don’t usually talk to.”
“I heard people saying everyone can make a difference.”
“I enjoyed that I got to know other people and see how they can be really nice people.”
Here are some things that the 8th graders had to say about their experience:
“Kindness is not just about being polite.”
“I hope the 5th & 6th graders are nicer and will work together better.”
“The project did much better than I expected.”
“I learned how easy it is to help with things if you work together.”
“I learned that some people in the 8th grade can actually be leaders that I would have never thought would be leaders.”
“I learned that I CAN stand up for people and make a change.”
On behalf of the 8th grade,
– Rebecca Slaby, Middle School Humanities Teacher