Student Retreat introduced to kick off school year

After summer break, the usual welcome back ceremony is simply an assembly with students rushing off to the classrooms soon after.

But this time, they received an email about a “student retreat,” from Mr. Jeff Doerfler, Dean of Student Services, during the last week of break. The email consisted of a two-day schedule of what was going to happen.

“The idea [of having a retreat] really came to me because of the problems we were experiencing throughout the school year,” Mr. Doerfler said.

Last year, there were a lot of concerns about minor and major issues. StuCo, for the most part, was able to handle it, but there was still a lot to be done.

One of the major issues faced by StuCo was that the new students were unaware of the rules due to the lack of communication about the policies.

“Many times, I’ve found that we, [the staff and the administration,] haven’t done a good job in communicating the policies and procedures to the students,” Mr. Doerfler said.

This was why the school initiated the student retreat: the goal being to help students transition better into the school year and help them gain a greater understanding of the rules.

The retreat started with all advisors, responsible for grades six through twelve, walking down to dorms for an hour-long session led by the Dorm Council.

This gave staff members a chance to have a look at how the students live. After the session, the staff had to walk up from dorms to school along with the students.

Later, the students and their advisors walked to the Hanifl Centre, where they got to know about the different outside education facilities that Hanifl provided and learnt about where each activities took place.

Then there were several sessions to advice students on coping with stress, time-management, and understanding themselves.

Out of several sessions centred around self-care, many seemed to enjoy the de-stressing session conducted by Mrs. Fabi Shaw, the school counselor.

After attending the session, many said that they felt very relaxed. She had arranged several practical ways to de-stress such as coloring, yoga, and nap sessions; the relexation was hightened by cozy lighting.

Ms. Anjali Sharma, grade nine Homeroom Head and ESL teacher said, “Mrs. Shaw’s [session] was really good. It should have been longer because it was practical and people were doing things; it wasn’t just listening.”

Despite the positive comments, some expressed that the retreat was unproductive given the amount of time spent on it.

“The activities were nice but we didn’t need two special days for that. I would rather spend time with my family,” Suhana Mehta, Class of 2020, said.

Other students expressed their concerns about the retreat fostering awkwardness between the old and new students, as opposed to the desired result of integrating them into the community.

Natalie Menon, a new student entering the Class of 2020, said, “It was great, but it made things kind of awkward between the new and the old students. If school had directly started, the awkwardness would have been less. It would have been an easier transition for us.”

But from a teacher’s perspective, Mr. Kailash Mani, grade eleven English teacher who recently joined in the fall semester, thought the retreat was helpful in getting to know the students.

“Being a new teacher, I didn’t know any of the kids, so I got a chance to spend time with them,” he said.

Due to such divided opinions, the success of the retreat is highly disputable.

According to Kritin Garg, Class of 2019 and co-school president, “It wasn’t as successful as it could have been.”

Furthermore, he explained, “I think we needed to be a little more prepared for it, which we weren’t because it was right after vacation, but at the same time it is also a new thing.”

Khushi Agrawal, Class of 2019 and co-school president expressed similar opinions to Garg. She explained that as it was the first time implementing a retreat, “it was a little chaotic and a little messy… [and] people were confused on what exactly was happening.”

Nevertheless, “the whole concept was really great. I think that it was really important to have that at the beginning of the year,” Agrawal said.

On this topic, Mr. Doerfler explained that for this time, the purpose was to keep everyone on the same page and get everything settled.

But for the coming year, he said that he was welcome to all opinions and ideas from students and staff so that it can function more smoothly.

In terms of the coming year, students had several suggestions for improvements that could be made.

Veer Arya, Class of 2020, suggested that students should not be divided into advisor groups, as students within said groups are already well aquainted.

He explained, “We already spend quite some time, like all of high school with them, so we know them well.”

Furthermore, he said, “If we were assigned into random groups, it might have been better and we could have made new friends.”

According to Mr. Doerfler, for the coming year the school will “give every student a grade level schedule” to avoid confusion and will try to improve the system in general.

Edited by Hyenjin Cho

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