Ivan Sand students prepare for new frontier

by Paul Rignell
Contributing writer

Students at Ivan Sand Community High School in Elk River will get a new experience Nov. 10 when they meet with more than 20 area adult volunteers for the school’s first “respect retreat.”

Principal Val Bakken has been working to arrange this Youth Frontiers program (youthfrontiers.org) for her students for five years, she told the Star News. A grant from the Three Rivers Community Foundation made it possible for this fall, along with support from Great River Energy and Zylstra Harley-Davidson.

The students will meet with the adult volunteers over the course of six hours in large- and small-group sessions where they will share and learn about the importance of respecting themselves, their classmates, teachers and others. Bakken previously introduced this program to students at a middle school where she served in northern Minnesota.

 For the Ivan Sand students, she says their time together outside of the regular school routine should inspire some students to speak up about their experiences while having the attention of more than 100 classmates from the alternative school that is open to students in grades nine through 12.

 “It has had some pretty powerful impacts on kids,” Bakken said. “They’ve shared some stories that were pretty touching.

 “It allows them to be themselves,” she added. “Sometimes they’re more honest with themselves about their own part in not treating someone as they should.”

 “It really gives kids a chance to experience what life would be like if we all respected each other,” said Curt Hinkle, volunteer coordinator for this event and a regional director and trainer for Young Life, a non-denominational, faith-based outreach program for teens and young adults.

 “We have a variety of people that are going to spend the day with the Ivan Sand kids,” he added. “They have a heart for kids.”

 The volunteers include area youth ministers and counselors, Hinkle said. He also inspired some Elk River Rotary members to sign up after he spoke of the program at a recent meeting.

 Adults in Zimmerman may be well aware of the Youth Frontiers programs, as staff and other adults in that school community have planned an annual courage retreat for their seventh-graders, a respect retreat for ninth-graders and a wisdom retreat for 12th-graders late during their senior year, just before prom and graduation season.

 “That brings their whole class together,” said Zimmerman Principal Marco Voce. “We stress making good choices and taking care of each other (throughout their celebrations). Our seniors come back and say that’s one of the best days they’ve had.”

 Zimmerman has funded its retreats through a variety of student projects. “Cookie dough, pizza, books and magazines — you name it, we’ve peddled it,” Voce said.

Voce said Zimmerman hopes to continue its fall tradition of holding a courage retreat for the seventh-graders, but they had yet to secure funds as of this week.

The programs have brought benefits for Zimmerman students, and the retreat for Ivan Sand students Nov. 10 should make their subsequent days a little brighter as well.

Said Principal Bakken: “I think everyone who comes to school wants to have a good day.”