The Character Movement

Students and staff building community on a kindness retreat

Big School, Small-Town Community

Haley Elementary is a big school. Serving more than 1,000 kids, it boasts one of the largest student bodies in the Chandler Unified School District. Though it’s grown greatly throughout its eleven years, the school prides itself on maintaining the culture of connectedness it pursued in its humble beginnings.

“Many of us teachers have kids or grandkids here. It’s just like a big family,” said Randi Bell, a fourth-grade teacher and grandmother of a fourth grader at Haley. “It’s really important to us to be mindful of each other — no matter how big our school gets, to keep that small-town feel.”

Maintaining that close community has become challenging for Haley. The school employs many tools, such as the Responsive Classroom teaching approach and the Be Kind initiative, that are conducive to a positive school environment. Even so, the school was searching for a community-building boost this year.

“In order to keep our school kind when we have so many people and to keep ourselves linked, we needed to do something.” That something turned out to be the Youth Frontiers Kindness Retreat.

The Kindness Retreat is designed to engage students and give them tools to develop empathy, promote kindness and prevent bullying. Haley’s students responded enthusiastically, displaying the values of the day, even as they were learning them.

“They were mindful of each other. They were helping each other. They were complimenting each other. They were remembering to be kind to each other and that was really cool to watch,” Randi said.

Even those who were at first hesitant to join the retreat came around. “I know we have one little boy this year who was not going to do anything. He just refused. But by the end, he just wanted to be a part of everything. There was no judgment; everyone belonged.”

Randi thinks this sense of belonging is a significant driver for her fourth graders and one of the reasons why she thinks the retreat is a valuable resource.

“They are starting to form who they are on their own at this age. They look to their friends and if they can find affirmation doing something positive, that’s better.”

For Randi, one of the best parts of the retreat was that she got to go through it with both her granddaughter and her daughter, one of 29 parents who volunteered to be small-group leaders at the retreat. Randi knew that the retreat would benefit her granddaughter, but at the end of the day, she also saw how it impacted her daughter.

“They are starting to form who they are on their own at this age. They look to their friends and if they can find affirmation doing something positive, that’s better.”


“I think it gave her a really good understanding of where these other kids are coming from,” Randi said. “I don’t think any of us think about that when we send our kids off to school. These other kids they deal with, we hear about them causing problems or not doing their work, but we don’t know why. And sometimes when we learn about that, when we’re sitting in small groups and having a conversation, we’re reminded that there’s a reason people do what they do. Maybe we can help them instead of just being mad or pointing our fingers at them.”

The retreat was a huge success for the Haley Elementary community in great part because the community came together to support it. And the retreat’s impact didn’t end that day. Since the start of the school year, Randi has kept a stack of cards on her desk for students to use to thank one another for their kind actions. Before the retreat they were untouched. Randi reported that, since the retreat, her stack of cards has been steadily dwindling.

Written by Sarah Gavigan, Communications Specialist at Youth Frontiers

This year, on The Character Movement, we are trying something new. We’ll be delving into one of our retreat values each month, examining it on our blog and in our Character Challenges. This month’s theme is community.

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