Sunday, September 23, 2012

Grade 8 Retreat

Last week, the Grade 8 students from J.N. Burnett Secondary school took part in a three-day retreat to Camp Stillwood over-looking beautiful Cultus Lake in Chillwack, B.C.  143 of the 145 Grade 8 students in the school participated in the retreat along with 13 adult sponsors and 23 Grade 11 and 12 leadership students.  Everyone had an amazing experience, getting to know one another, developing their leadership skills and coming together as the Grad class of 2017.  With the weather surpassing everyone's expectations (27 degrees and sunny everyday), and the copious amounts of delicious food keeping everyone sustained, the trip was extremely enjoyable.  The trip created memories that will last a lifetime.  Two of the Senior Leadership students (Ian Sapollnik and Amanda Odorico) were kind enough to write a summary of the trip and what they felt was learned by those involved.
The grade eights came to the retreat with energy and excitement, but also with some insecurity. From the beginning, I could see them staying in their comfort zones, afraid of exploring the world of opportunity that exists when they step out. Since three days are not very long, there was no time to waste.
                We arrived at Camp Stillwood, settled down, and started off with a scavenger hunt. Through different activities that involved teamwork, creativity, problem solving and a whole lot of running, I could see my group already bonding and becoming a true team. Having collected all of our clues, we ran back to our starting point. Sweaty and exhausted, we assembled the letters we had been given into the phrase “Don’t Stop Believing.” I looked around at my team of grade eights, and I felt a sense of unity not just between them, but between us.
                Tuesday involved even more challenges, through a series of different activities: Drama, Team Building, Leadership Lessons and Art. For my team, Team Building was the most productive, because it allowed us to continue expanding the bonds we had developed both within our group as well as with other groups. My highlight of that day, maybe even the whole retreat, occurred as we were heading in for lunch.  The grade eights were lined up outside in their teams, and the leaders started to go in. Once inside, I looked back and saw the students having a cheer-off. Without any help from leaders or teachers, my team was chanting louder than any other. For me, this embodied what the whole retreat is about: turning the grade eights into strong leaders and giving them the spirit and purposefulness to succeed throughout high school. The day wound down with a charades tournament, which pushed the students to work together and take initiative.
                Wednesday felt very short, and after the closing ceremony and some free time, unfortunately, we had to leave. I looked around, and I saw many things. I saw a group of classmates who had developed from timid individuals into a unified group. I saw a massive amount of potential for these students to continue to evolve. I also saw all the student leaders, including myself, who guided the grade eights through their journey. The retreat was a unique experience for us as well. We faced very difficult tasks, and by overcoming them, we all bonded as a group and grew as individuals.  Just like how the grade eights didn’t know each other very well, I had never met some of the leaders I was working with. The chance to rely on one another so greatly and support each other to such an extent provided us with a challenge that shaped us and changed us in the same way it did the grade eights. 

From a leader’s eyes, the retreat was a great success. In three days, we created a group of young students who are now ready to be Burnett’s future leaders, as well as a smaller group of older students who developed their skills further and challenged themselves while challenging others. The theme of the retreat, “believe,” was found throughout the whole week. It was found in the leaders, the students and in the teachers. Interestingly enough, I also found myself in disbelief over how much the retreat had changed everyone. (Ian Sapollnik)
 The grade eight retreat was a great experience for me. I was able to grow as a leader and was able to learn from any mistakes that had been made and turn it into something positive. Being a leader at the camp was so much fun. I was able to talk to the grade eights and learn about them and what they thought about high school. Some even asked me how high school was for me and I told them about the great events that happen in the school. Since the retreat, I’ve had a bunch of the grade eight students come up to me and tell me that when they get into grade twelve that they want to be a leader, too. I think that was the best thing I heard the whole time, because I feel like somehow I got the kids involved or the desire to be involved in the school some how. (Amanda Odorico) 
Special thanks to the staff of Camp Stillwood and the school staff who gave up time with their families to help supervise the students.  Thanks also to the Leadership students, Ian and Amanda included, for their energy and enthusiasm.  It looked like you enjoyed yourselves and learned just as much as the Grade 8 students did.  A special word of thanks to the teachers who worked so hard behind the scenes and before the trip began, getting things organized and ready.  Ms. Meralli, Ms. Davis, Ms. Cain and Mr. Blair, your efforts are truly appreciated.
Congratulations to the Grade 8's for a hugely successful trip, and we look forward to you developing even more close-knit relationships with your peers.  We encourage you to continue being involved and making memories as you become the Grads of 2017.

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