East hosts regional leadership retreat for high school juniors

Brookfield East High School hosts Youth Frontiers' 15-school Responsibility Retreat

High school juniors look on as Deb Grahn sings a folk song as part of the Responsibility Retreat at Brookfield East High School on May 1.

High school juniors look on as Deb Grahn sings a folk song as part of the Responsibility Retreat at Brookfield East High School on May 1. Photo By Peter Zuzga

May 6, 2014

Two months after its freshman Respect Retreat, Youth Frontiers returned to Brookfield East High School to speak with soon-to-be seniors about leadership.

Youth Frontiers is a nonprofit organization dedicated to building community and inspiring character in students. Frontiers, based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota, offers inspirational programs for schools, primarily in the Upper Midwest.

The organization returned to Brookfield East on May 1 for a Responsibility Retreat that included about 300 students from 15 schools in the Milwaukee area.

The Responsibility Retreat was geared toward high school juniors to emphasize their "individual ability to respond as leaders in their school," said Patty Beadle, Youth Frontiers' Expansion Markets Manager.

"It's all about doing that one piece (to help)," Beadle said. "Socially, emotionally and academically — juniors know what's broken. So, when you set the bar high, they'll meet it. All you have to do is ask."

The students often were put into small groups, mixed between the schools, and asked to participate in a series of "ice-breaking" games before reaching serious discussion about what it means to be a positive leader.

"It's all about facing our fears and following our hearts, not following the crowd," Beadle said. "We get much deeper in this Responsibility Retreat — there's more vulnerability."

In addition to group discussion, students were given retreat journals to document what they felt needed "repairing" in their schools and ways to fix them.

"Although we're not an anti-bully program, some schools use us for that purpose because we unapologetically teach character to students," Beadle said.

Back by popular demand

Youth Frontiers' message of respect resonated with the students who attended the Brookfield East retreat in February, according to a survey conducted by the school 30 days after the event.

A strong majority of students reported having more self-respect, more integrity and more conviction against negative peer pressure. Students also reported that bullying had become less of a problem since the retreat.

According to the survey, 92 percent of the freshmen students said they would recommend the retreat for other students.

The student survey parallels statistics provided by Youth Frontiers, which proudly stands behind its 85 percent retention rate among participating schools.

"We never really thought twice about hosting the (Responsibility) retreat here," Brookfield East guidance counselor Michelle McKenna said. "It's really a privilege for us … to host this event, where the idea is to leave the school a better place than when they came. Hopefully, it will impact more than just Brookfield East students, too."

McKenna said the school is already planning for another Youth Frontiers Respect Retreat next year.

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