Sunday, September 22, 2013

Grade 8 Retreat 2013

I have often wondered "What do parents want most for their children in high school?"  Now that I am a parent of a new high schooler myself, I can better answer the question.  I want my child to be welcomed, to feel connected and to have great pride in his school.  I want him to be challenged and supported, and I want him to be safe.  This is a big responsibility for a school, but one that I am confident we do a very good job of providing.
Each year, one of the ways our school welcomes its newcomers is to host a Grade 8 Retreat.  A team of four extremely dedicated teachers plan and book the trip, collect the fees, organize the activities etc. With the help of 35 student leaders plus 13 other adults, away go over 250 people from J.N. Burnett Secondary.

We have been going to Camp Stillwood, a beautiful sight overlooking Cultus Lake in Chilliwack, BC, for the past 5 years.  The trip is quite frequently referred to as the highlight of their time in high school by our graduates, and this year was no exception.
Getting ready to go!

We have arrived at Stillwood

The dining hall

Team games in the Dome

The closing ceremonies

Group photo just before leaving.  Good times!
We began our trip early Monday morning, gathering in the gym before boarding the buses heading to Cultus Lake.  Once there, the students were fully engaged in activities including: Getting to know your team members, a 4 station rotation of Arts and Crafts (making a picture frame memento), Drama skits, Leadership discussions and Team Building games.  There was also a team Cheer-off, a movie night (this year we watched "42-The Jackie Robinson Story"), the writing of a "Letter to Myself" (which is given back to the students when they graduate), and the highlight of the trip, the Charades tournament.  The camp is very well-equipped to take care of our every need and the food preparation and distribution was extremely high quality.

The students all came home fatigued, but very excited about the connection to their new school.  They told parents all about the new friends they made, the relationships they now have with the senior Leadership students, and how they know their teachers better and see them as regular people who want to help.

As I continue to look at activities through the lens of my 13 year old, Grade 8 son (who goes to a different school), I see that trips and efforts like these, designed to help students feel a greater sense of connection and belonging, go a very long way.

I can not thank enough all of the adults who gave up three days away from their families, the 35 Leadership students who were magnificent in connecting with our Grade 8's, the Stillwood staffers, the Grade 8's who represented themselves, their families and our school so well, and especially the four Burnett staff who put so much time and energy into making the sure the event happened without a hitch.

Following events like last week's, I can truly say, "I am proud to be a Breaker!", and am more confident than ever that we are providing the kind of environment where students quickly become connected and parents can feel good about sending their children.

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