The Countdown to Retreat

Juliet Suess

By Olivia Gubel ’21
In just a few days, middle school students will take a break from their active academic lives and embark on their retreats. Over the course of four days, students will be encouraged to step out of their comfort zones, physically and emotionally. Activities include sea kayaking, ropes courses, visiting native animals and hiking. Most of all, students will get the opportunity to immerse themselves in all nature has to offer.
As it is their first retreat, seventh grade students will stay in cabins, while eighth and ninth graders will be compelled to more deeply experience the natural world by staying in tents. In an online survey sent out to middle school students and sophomores who had attended retreat in the past, respondents offered their advice, opinions and feedback on each particular trip.
Seventh grade students will stay in cabins and lofts.
“The trip is a smooth introduction to retreat,” ninth grade dean Betsy Ilg said.
A typical day will include breakfast as a group, then dispersing into pre-picked smaller divisions where they will be introduced to ropes courses, hiking, group bonding activities, sea kayaking and even a few llamas. According to the survey, the wide range of activities usually ensures that each student usually finds something that truly interests them. Past students have described the experience similar to that of sleepaway camp. This time, however, they are given the chance to have a common experience with their new classmates. In the survey, past students strongly recommended packing bug spray. Many students expressed the new connections they made and new perspectives that were made visible to them.
“The trip reinforced my gratitude towards the luxuries I have in my life,” a survey respondent said.
For the first time, the eighth grade retreat will be on Catalina Island, where students will participate in water activities, rock climbing and explore nature during scenic hikes. Survey respondents seemed to enjoy kayaking or scuba diving, with many listing those activities as their favorite part of the trip. Students also commented on the friendships they fostered at Catalina.

Students pose for a picture during retreat.

“All seven girls in that cabin are still my friends today,” one respondent said.
Eighth grade students also have the option to go to Joshua Tree where they will experience desert camping, as opposed to cabins. Prior students who have attended this trip listed the rock climbing and the campfire as their favorite aspects of the trip.
Ninth grade students will choose to go on the upper or lower Colorado River trip. Both retreats will feature camping in tents and canoeing during the day. The upper river offers several hiking opportunities, while the lower river has sandbars where students and adults will take breaks from canoeing.  There will also be opportunities for night hiking. Students will wake up at 6:30-7 a.m. and go to bed around 10 p.m. On the last day of the lower river, students will wake up at dawn and load their canoes to float down the river under the stars.
“It is a once in a lifetime experience,” Ilg said.
More than half of the 102 sophomore survey respondents said that the Colorado River trip was their favorite retreat in all.
Students canoe down the Colorado River as water splashes in their eyes.

Regarding the logistics of the trip, the largest single aspect students struggled with was the lack of facilities. Several students spoke of the need to bring bug spray, snacks and a refillable water bottle.
Some students have said that being in the wilderness without access to technology was a benefit.
“I was able to focus on myself and my relationships with people,” a survey respondent said.
These trips also provided a sense of gratitude and appreciation for their daily lives. Most students strengthened their bonds with people they did not connect with in the past. Others remarked that the trips brought them a stronger sense of gratitude and allowed them to make friends with people they had not gotten to know well.
Because of the vast differences between the concrete jungle of Los Angeles and the pure state of nature, it is natural to feel anxious and even apprehensive regarding the upcoming retreats.
“The biggest struggle about the trip happens before retreat. Students become stressed about small details,” Ilg said.
The rumors tend to cultivate unnecessary causes for concern.
“It is not every day we get the opportunity to test ourselves in unfamiliar situations. Everyone bonds over a common experience, even if it was one they didn’t like,” Ilg said.
The views from the Colorado River greatly differ from what students see daily.