ARMSTRONG - Movies and TV depict the high school pecking order as a rite of passage: the juniors and seniors pick on the freshmen.
But a day-long retreat for North Union's freshmen showed that the two segments of high school society have more in common than they may believe.
"We are in our third year of a Safe and Supportive Schools grant," explained Becky Kinnander, a counselor at North Union High School in Armstrong. "Each year as part of that, we do a survey, and the data we received indicated that students wanted better relationships with each other."
A group of North Union students spells out “Respect” during an activity at a freshmen retreat at North Union High School in Armstrong on Friday.
This was the first year North Union held a "respect retreat," a program from Youth Frontiers directed at the freshmen.
"We decided to start with the freshmen, since they are just beginning their high school careers," Kinnander said. "Within the first hour of the retreat, I think we were all in agreement that this was something we should do for the other classes. It's an opportunity to interact and develop relationships in their high school careers."
Along with the freshmen class, some of the upper classmen were selected to act as leaders.
"The groups were split up, so there were no friends with friends," Kinnander said. "We wanted them to be outside of their comfort zone, and they ended up making new friends."
The upper classmen helpers found they learned as much as the freshmen.
"We don't give the freshmen the credit they deserve," said junior Autumn Boland. "It made me realize there are a lot of cool people that I didn't know anything about."
"It ended up being a lot more than I thought it was going to be," said senior Marshall Klingenberg. "I'd like to see them do more for more grades."
"I'd like to see one for seniors, especially when we get close to graduation," said senior Chase Paulson.
Not all students, particularly some freshmen, were sold on the retreat at first.
"When I first went, I wasn't sure," admitted freshman Alex Fothergill. "But as it went on, it became fun, I started seeing people differently than before, seeing them for who they are, not just their actions."
As the day-long retreat went on, it became obvious the freshmen were becoming the envy of the school.
"All day long, we saw other students putting their faces up to the door, trying to see what was going on, because we were having fun," Kinnander said.
Along with respect for others, students learned about respecting themselves.
"The closing campfire was so moving," Kinnander said. "They had the opportunity to get up and share some of their personal reflections from the retreat, and it wasn't required, but several did."
"I know I'm pretty hard on myself when it comes to my grades or sports," Boland admitted. "It made me realize that I'm not perfect and that it's OK to make mistakes. Everyone does."
One of the techniques taught was concentrating on "97."
"On a test, instead of dwelling on the three answers you got wrong, look at the 97 you got right," Kinnander gave as an example.
So far, there seems to be a noticeable difference.
"Just from Friday to Monday, I notice that there's not as much yelling at each other in the halls; people are walking the right way in the hallways," said senior Rebecca Boyer.
Kinnander admitted the next big challenge is keeping up the current enthusiasm.
"It had the desired affect," she said. "I hoped it would bring the classes closer together, and give the freshmen a chance to know the upper classmen. The teachers appreciated the opportunity. They loved the opportunity to know the kids better."