School spotlight kindness

Parent and volunteer Jeffrey Wharton and fourth-grader Blain Baney, 10, play a game of double thumb wrestling during a Kindness Retreat at Northside Elementary School in Sun Prairie.

ANDY MANIS — For the State Journal

Fifth-grader Hailey Krause thinks fellow students at C.H. Bird Elementary School in Sun Prairie have made changes since attending a recent Kindness Retreat at the school.

"A lot of people are acting more kind and being nicer," said Hailey, 11.

The retreat, which featured a number of activities in small and large groups, was put on by Youth Frontiers, a nonprofit organization based in Minneapolis. Students were given kindness strategies, such as drawing other students away from bullies by saying something nice and then asking the students to join them.

"They called it 'ICI' — interrupt, compliment and invite away," Hailey said.

Fifth-grader Josh Otteson, 10, said that the retreat allowed him to get to know other students and that he is still friends with them.

While fifth-grader Grace Aughey, 10, said she doesn't see much bullying at C.H. Bird, she thought the skills could come in handy later.

Principal Chad Wiedmeyer said the Kindness Retreat concepts fit in well with Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, a national program implemented at the school to improve student behavior by teaching expected behaviors and then rewarding students when they exhibit them.

The day-long Kindness Retreats, which are designed for fourth- and fifth-graders, are being held in January and February at each of the Sun Prairie Area School District's seven elementary schools. School parent groups, Sun Prairie Rotary Club members, community members and businesses helped fund the retreats.

During a Kindness Retreat at Northside Elementary School in Sun Prairie, students were asked to think about how they could show acts of kindness.

"We like to think kindness is a lot like a boomerang," said retreat staff manager Megan Lee-Erickson.

Jean Culp, retreat director, said in an interview that a goal of the retreat is to have the students experience one day when they are treated only with kindness.

"We want to prove to them (that) if they can do it today, they have the power to do it every day," she said.