Not many people would take on 500 4th graders. However, this February J.A.G. students from the Prairie Phoenix Academy, an alternative high school in Sun Prairie WI, volunteered two days of their time to mentor the entire local elementary school 4th grade population which turned out to be 500 students.
They implemented an event called the Kindness Retreat. It was a day-long program that offered students a chance to participate in activities that emphasize the value of kindness and inspire character development. Kids used kindness to be “everyday heroes” and include others, be respectful and make their schools a better place to be. The leaders of the J.A.G. class led breakout sessions, teaching small groups of students about bullying. They let them know bullying is much more than physical fighting. It includes verbal taunting and social exclusion as well. The students were then tutored in positive and safe ways to handle bullying situations. The results of the retreat were cognitive changes, changes in attitude and behavioral shifts. These changes helped students break down barriers to learning and build a more positive school community. J.A.G. has led the volunteer component of this activity for two years. The retreat is run by Youth Frontiers a Minneapolis based non-profit organization (www.youthfrontiers.org).
After the volunteer experience, the J.A.G. students spoke in front of the school board and the local Business Education Foundation. The purpose of the presentation was to gather public support and raise money for next year’s Kindness Retreat. The school superintendent, Dr. Tim Culver, applauded the efforts of the J.A.G. students and utilizes them to discuss how the Kindness Retreats helps the young students, but how the volunteers also carry the lessons back to the high school as well as the community where they work and live.
Last year’s J.A.G. President Elijah Kellum was so imperative at the Kindness Retreat in 2013 that he is now employed by the school district. This year’s J.A.G. President Morgan Hietpas is already gaining esteem with her fund raising efforts for next year’s retreat. One of the hallmarks of the JAG programs and one of the most rewarding is the mentoring of younger students. The Wisconsin JAG program is really taking the time to make a difference.