Why do events like the Year 11 Retreat Day

Why do events like the Year 11 Retreat Day

Thursday, 10 August 2017  | Emma - Senior School Coordinator
When I reflect on my time as a student at MECS, before returning as a teacher, I am struck by how many of my fondest memories are from the excursions, camps and big events that occur in the life of the school. I, like many students who have come through MECS have loved the camps such as City Camp and Centre Trip, the fun to be had on sports days, the special school event days, interschool sports competitions and extracurricular activities such as the wrestling team. While these activities made up only a small proportion of my time at school, their lasting impact on my development as a whole person is disproportionately significant.

In the running of a school we walk the fine line of class time, established classroom rhythms and these additional events and activities. In week one of this term the Year 11 students took part in a Retreat Day at Lake Mountain where they had a cross country ski lesson in the morning and team orienteering competition in the afternoon. It is our hope to extend this into an overnight camp next year. In many ways one might wonder why, in the time poor and academically driven years of the VCE we would prioritise taking a day out like this, which on first glance has no immediate relevance to the students’ VCE studies. Again and again this is a tension we grapple with, particularly so in the Senior School. How do we balance the rigours and demands of the curriculum with these additional activities or events?

In traditional subject-based classes like those in the Senior School, the tendency can be to get too caught up in ‘covering the content’ and ensuring students know everything they are likely to get assessed on. While this is certainly a very important part of a VCE teaching program, and one which we strive to excel in, this can lead to an inclination to have an unbalanced view of students. In these years of students moving into young adulthood, it could be argued that this head knowledge is only one part of the larger picture of the holistic development of our students.

Ultimately having both facets as part of a school program is a balancing act, and one that exists both harmoniously and in tension at the same time.

What can students learn from participating in the Year 11 retreat day?

First, and most obviously, students might learn new skills in skiing and map reading. They could also learn how to have a growth mindset when learning a new skill that they are unfamiliar with. They may learn that when we try something new it is natural to fall down, sometimes repeatedly, as we gradually find our feet. Hopefully, they will learn to look for how they can help others, empathising with those who experience struggles similar to their own or who are not yet as competent as they are. Students may develop resilience, that elusive and valuable quality that enables students to try and try again, overcoming setbacks and disappointments along the way. Students may gain an insight into how the best laid plans can be side-tracked by variables outside our control, like limited snow, but take the step to rise above it and make the most of an experience regardless. They might discover skills, abilities or personality traits in others that they were unaware of, or, even more surprisingly in themselves. They will be encouraged to communicate with a group, problem solve, find creative solutions, set goals, and work together as a team to achieve them. Hopefully, they will experience the joy and wonder of God’s beautiful creation and the various ways we can enjoy it. This is just a snapshot of the possible ‘lessons’ involvement in a day like this might bring.

These mountaintop experiences (sorry, pun intended) in the life of a school develop the ‘soft skills’ implicit in our expectations of a good education and preparation for adult life. When we consider the education of the whole child, their body, mind, soul, spirit, we can see how activities such as the Retreat Day push beyond the limitations of a traditional classroom environment. These moments mark significant times of social, emotional, spiritual, mental and physical formation, and are significant in establishing a sense of shared meaning and group identity in a year level at school. While activities such as these need to be tempered by the pragmatic requirements and considerations of schooling, it is important at times to pause to acknowledge their educational and communal significance in our efforts at Christian education.

In our quest for transformative Christian education we hope we can provide experiences where ‘students engage with God’s world and word, and they are encouraged to respond with wisdom and knowledge, with discernment and creativity, with playfulness and perseverance, with love and compassion.’(Transformational Education, p. 19)

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