The closing song reverberated off the high ceiling and floated into the listening ears of the students that packed the room at the end of a noisy, busy and thoughtful day. As the leader belted out his conviction that he believed in a better tomorrow, I was left to wonder whether I genuinely agreed. And, if so, what I would do about it.
That was the challenge of the day for the Summit Middle School students who attended the Courage Retreat earlier this week. The event has been a rite of passage for the local youth who attend middle school, and for the many high schoolers who return annually to counsel their younger peers. It is time intentionally set aside for kids to give some serious thought on how to stand up for themselves while respecting each other, all with the goal of making their world - the halls and classrooms of SMS - a better place. In a larger world where parents routinely wonder how to quell school violence, or if it's possible to foster a community where every student has the chance to fulfill his or her potential without getting too bogged down in the usual adolescent tumult, positive soul searching can have a significant impact.
It was not a day to tell kids what to believe. Instead, it offered time for them to reflect on their own beliefs. And they are a thoughtful lot. Common themes emerged throughout the day, including mutual respect, compassion and acting with integrity. Once the kids focused on what they valued in the community, they then considered the action they could take individually to make positive contributions to their school environment. At the end of the day many of them took a stand, literally, and voiced what they would do to act with courage. An early lesson that a rising tide really can lift all boats, or, that you are never too young (or too old) to take personal responsibility.
The retreat facilitators from Youth Frontiers have challenged over one million youth throughout the country to consider tough issues of ethical leadership since 1987, including many of Summit's own. On retreat day, the discussion started and ended with heart. The word courage comes from the Latin root, "cor" meaning heart, and all of the participants demonstrated they have the heart to be courageous in a world where the choices daily become more complex, and an apathetic response is the easy way out.
Believing in a better tomorrow does not always come that easily to me, cynicism sometimes flows though my veins. The endless possibilities that stretched before these youngsters was a bittersweet reminder that time I once counted on to make a difference is quickly slipping away. The song's lyrics challenged me to rid myself of skepticism about a better tomorrow, recognizing even that act will take courage. But if we are asking the next generation to take heart - and we should - then there is no better time than now to get back on the bandwagon of belief.
I have no doubt our schools remain focused on making sure every kid that comes through the door achieves to their highest level academically. Sometimes however figuring out how to do your best entails examining how to be the best person you can be.
"Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. . . most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition." Steve Jobs
Cindy Bargell is an attorney and mom who lives outside of Silverthorne with her husband and two daughters. She welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.