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Ninth graders get acquainted

Rosemount High School freshmen talk in small groups near the end of Wednesday's respect retreat session. The daylong event was designed to bring students together. Nathan Hansen/Town Pages

When it was over, there were hugs and smiles and laughter, and that's as it should be.

There were also people chasing down friends, yelling, "No! We can't let the group hug end!" That was a little strange, but still kind of appropriate.

This was a day, after all, about coming together. It was a chance for Rosemount High School's new ninth graders to get to know each other, get to know themselves and learn to get along.

The event was the Rosemount High School's respect retreat. The annual start-of-the-year activity, run by a company called Youth Frontiers, has become a tradition at Rosemount High School and something many students remember fondly at the end of their high school career.

"We found overwhelmingly one of the highlight moments that our seniors noted was being able to go on the respect retreat as freshmen," said Drew Storley, the school's ninth grade coordinator.

The program is an effort to bring RHS freshmen together as they find their way in a big, new school. Moderators from Youth Frontiers and volunteers from the junior and senior classes lead the freshmen through activities designed to help the new classmates get to know each other, get to trust each other and get to, if not like each other at least know how to treat each other with respect.

The retreat is one of several attempts school administrators make to reach students early in their high school career. Storley said the early high school years are vital for getting students on the right path. Events like the respect retreat are about creating a community within the larger RHS building and getting as many kids as possible pointed in the right direction.

"Our ninth grade teachers have told us that it's a valuable use of time," Storley said. "Our freshmen have a very good experience when they're up there."

This year's ninth graders attended the retreat this week in three groups Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Each session followed the same schedule, and each ended with what organizers called the campfire -- a lit candle in the center of the banquet room at the Rosemount Community Center and an open microphone available to any student who wanted to share a promise he or she had made to respect themselves or others.

Based on the responses, it was clear the day had made an impact. Students pledged to stop making fun of others, or to stand up for others who were being bullied or teased. Some cried as they asked for others to treat them better.

"I've had a lot of stuff said to me," one girl said. "They've called me names. Horrible names. I don't want to have that for my high school years."

Others seemed to get the message.

"I am, on a regular basis, making fun of people just to get a laugh," one boy said. "We need to respect each other. Respect ourselves. Realize what we're doing is bad."

Ninth grader Taylor Rekstraw said the daylong session he attended Wednesday was valuable. He expects it to bring students closer together.

"We kind of got to realize a bunch of stuff," he said as classmates hugged and laughed around him. "It helps you learn how to tolerate other people."