Emotional respect retreat discourages bullying among freshmen - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Emotional respect retreat discourages bullying among freshmen

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DUBUQUE (KWWL) -

Hundreds of Dubuque freshmen are now saying "no" to bullying and "yes" to respect.

Between last week and this week, the entire freshman class at both Dubuque Senior and Hempstead high schools went through an off-campus Respect Retreat. It was lead by Minnesota-based non-profit Youth Frontiers, which, for more than 25 years, has been conducting positive and empowering seminars for students nationwide.

On Thursday, some 200 Dubuque Senior freshmen gathered in McCormick Gymnasium on the University of Dubuque campus to participate in the one-day retreat. The program involves fun activities, music, discussion and sharing. It also encourages students to shut out negative comments and peer pressure and focus, instead, on helping one another and building positive community within their school.

The final activity of the retreat allowed students to stand up, take the microphone and address all of their peers.

"I'm going to respect myself more by not letting my insecurities get the best of me," one freshman girl said.

"A lot of people go through a lot of things, but, you know, standing up is one of the most important," a boy said.

"My brother has autism, and so I want people to be kind to people who have disabilities," another said.

Blake Chambers was among those who addressed his fellow freshmen.

"One thing I really need to work on is respecting myself," he told his class.

Chambers said he's been on both ends of bullying and neither one feels good.

"People start judging people by the way they look, by the way they smell, the people they hang around, just different stuff like that I used to pick on people about," Chambers said.

He said middle school was difficult for him, between getting bullied and going through tough times with his family. The Respect Retreat inspired him, he said, to continue using music as a positive outlet. Chambers plays guitar and is on Dubuque Senior's freshman football team.

Respect is especially important as bullying makes its way from school hallways to social media.

Freshman Lauren Connolly knows this firsthand.

"I've been called fat and ugly a couple times on that stuff, and it doesn't feel good," she said. "But, it's like, if you just kind of talk to your friends about it, they'll definitely put you up."

She encourages people who feel bullied to talk about their feelings and realize they're not alone.

Upperclassmen helped lead the retreat, many of whom had, themselves, gone through the Respect Retreat when they were freshmen.

Sarah Shealer, a junior at Dubuque Senior, was one of those student leaders at Thursday's retreat and said her own freshman retreat experience changed her for the better.

"I've changed a lot. I've developed more. I'm less judgmental about it. I'm more open to helping people," Shealer said. "I feel like it overall made me a better person."

As the Respect Retreat promotes character and community, teachers and the retreat's facilitators want students to take their commitments to with them.

"It has to be something that comes into your life and comes into your school," retreat co-facilitator Josh Johnson told freshmen Thursday. "That's when a day like today really counts and matters."

Hempstead has held a Respect Retreat for its freshmen for five years now, and this is Dubuque Senior's third year.

Teachers acknowledge not every freshman takes the retreat seriously or to heart, but enough students do take lessons with them that teachers see a lasting, positive impact on the class.

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