Retreats Make Welcome Return to Middle School

The Middle School was a bit of a ghost town last week as students adventured in the Pacific Northwest for their annual class retreats. Students explored together for the first time since the pandemic began.

"What I love most about these opportunities is watching students cheer each other on and support each other,” Head of Middle School Ann Sulzer said. “Activities like the ropes course and kayaking give kids a chance to see that they all have different strengths and gifts that extend beyond the classroom. It is a really powerful reminder of the beauty of a diverse community."

Sixth Grade Enjoys Fall Experience

Due to the pandemic and age limitations on who can receive vaccinations, the sixth-grade class was unable to travel for an overnight stay. But they were able to explore the beauty of the Portland area through their new "Sixth Grade Fall Experience.”

On Wednesday, they explored Oxbow Park. On Thursday, they were on the high ropes courses and giant swing on campus for team-building exercises. And Friday, they adventured to Willamette Falls for kayaking.

“Students met activities with curiosity, engagement, and lots of energy,” Middle School Humanities Teacher and Sixth Grade Dean Charley Adams said. “Most activities were based on some kind of movement and/or teamwork and communication. Some required the type of focus they're used to in the classroom, but for the most part, kids were on their feet, moving around, and working together. They really enjoyed mixing up their days, and it was clear they appreciated a break from the day-to-day routines and demands of a typical school day.”

On Tuesday, students were able to participate in a talent-sharing presentation with performances ranging from piano and cello to stand-up comedy and skits, card tricks, basketball handling skills, mind reading, and even a physics lecture. Faculty projected a blazing campfire onto the screen in the Middle School Commons and watched as students took the lead.

“I expected kids to need a break during the 75-minute program, but when they were asked if they needed a break, they declined and demanded the next act,” Adams said. “This was another case in which they created their own culture; although the scene was anything but quiet, the audience remained respectful, engaged, and genuinely supportive. The overall atmosphere of the event was truly joyful.”

Goals for the experience included creating a class culture, getting to know each other better, developing trust through shared experiences, building communications skills, and more. But most importantly, the goal was to have fun.

“It was wonderful to see kids getting to know each other on their own terms in a variety of in-person settings,” Adams said. “Students found ways to make each activity their own by adding a new rule, setting a goofy goal, or creating a unique communication cycle. This is when it becomes clear to me that we're meeting our goals because students have found ways to shape their experience in ways that are meaningful to them.”

“A huge debt of gratitude to [Assistant Head of Middle School] Laura Todis and [Experiential Education Coordinator] Tom Handel, who spent time over the summer re-imagining what experiential education could look like for students who aren't able to travel overnight,” Adams concluded. “There's no way this would have been as successful as it was without their creativity, planning, and effort.”

Seventh Graders Explore Mount St. Helens

An integral piece of the seventh-grade experience at OES is the annual trip to Mount St. Helens and the surrounding area. Students study the mountain (St. Helen's Hall's namesake} and its 1980 eruption and familiarize themselves with the surrounding wilderness leading up to their trip.

“Spirits were high and the students threw themselves into the hikes and activities with great enthusiasm,” Middle School English Teacher Pete Flynn said. “They learned and grew a lot over those four days.”

They often battled steady rain, but were troopers through it all and got lucky at key moments during the trip.

“In a way, the rain was a good challenge for the students—some adversity for them to overcome,” Flynn said. “We also were lucky enough to have the weather clear when we were visiting Johnston Ridge Observatory, and we got a spectacular view of the Mt. St. Helens crater covered in snow.”

The camping trip also involved hiking, adventures to the Ape Caves, and important team-building activities for a group that wasn’t able to have a class trip last year.

“This year's trip was particularly important for these kids because it was a chance for them to bond as a class and get to know each other—they had not really had that opportunity as sixth graders,” Flynn concluded. “It also seemed like the kids were excited to be outside and having adventures as a class again. It was fun to be learning out of the classroom.”

Eighth Grade Class Contemplates on Annual Relationship Retreat

Eighth graders ventured to a retreat center near Turner last Wednesday for the yearly relationship retreat. On the trip, eighth-graders explored topics including how they think of themselves, what qualities they value in relationships, and what consent looks like. They shared their ideas and asked questions to help them begin to unpack these concepts.

“The trip last week was wonderful. We had great weather—even the little bit of rain was nice,” Middle School History and Social Studies Teacher Bradi Ross said. “Our students were engaged and open to learning a variety of information over the three days. Due to Covid, we spread out throughout the camp with only four students per cabin which meant they really got a chance to get to know each other and bond.”

Students enjoyed singing around the campfire, tours of the night sky from Middle School Science Teacher Ethan Vedder, s’mores, and even a surprise celebration for a student whose birthday was during the trip.

“It was incredibly powerful to be together to create a community of understanding,” Ross said. “We all learn from each other, so being able to hear other people's ideas made all the difference. Plus, the time in between our learning sessions offered the students a chance to play games and connect outside of class time."

Retreats like this are of special importance in all years, but especially after a worldwide pandemic that sent all students home for months.

“Our work with our students across disciplines is always, at its core, about the human heart." Middle School Academic Support Coordinator and Health & Wellness Teacher Steve Brennan said. "Yes, we focus on developing our minds, and those efforts are ultimately in the service of the heart. This trip affords the honor of bringing the eighth graders into thoughtful conversation about relationships, human sexuality, and dignity—always aiming at the heart of our shared experiences."