In a class of nearly 500 students, it can be difficult to know exactly who everyone is. Even in a tight-knit community, there are always a few people you wish you knew better. In an effort to reconnect and build bonds, Hopkins High School 11th-graders participated in the second-annual Junior Unity Day on Feb. 6 and 7.
The premise, a concept brought to Hopkins by Principal Doug Bullinger, is to unite the grade through a series of team building activities, open and honest conversations, and opportunities to engage with classmates they normally wouldn’t. Bullinger said the goal of the two-day, in-house retreat is to “build connections with the student body, see the commonalities that exist, and highlight the positive in one another.”
Once again, motivational speaker Keith Hawkins facilitated the two days and gave students a platform to express themselves. They talked about the importance of peer and teacher support, what being a Royal means, and ways to lift up one another. They students also delved into difficult topics such as bullying and mental health, and shared each other’s experiences about being a teenager.
“Junior Unity Day is focused a lot on social and emotional learning,” Bullinger said.
Some exercises pushed students out of their comfort zone and required each person to pair up with someone they don’t typically interact with. Simply talking with someone different puts them in another’s shoes, Hawkins said, and encourages empathy, understanding, and responsibility.
As part of the Junior Unity Day, several seniors attended as event facilitators. They talk with juniors about being a leader and encourage the class to continue putting the day’s themes into action.
“Just because this is only two days, doesn’t mean the work stops here,” Hawkins said. “Everything takes effort. You have full control after today. And everything starts with efforts. It’s a small word but its meaning is very powerful.”