Again this year, middle school students spent their first three days of school on retreat at Camp Lakewood in Potosi, MO. For students at an urban school, says trip leader Mark Norwood, this time in nature “creates disequilibrium that invites change, reflection, and openness.”
“We go away to get closer,” Mark says. “We start with relationships first. Relationship are key to the Crossroads mission, and we’re also talking about the adults.”
“It allowed us to get to know one another and really figure out what we all value and how we can work as a team to best support our kids,” says science teacher Sarah Tolch. “We even had some time to dream about exciting curricular activities!”
Mark and his colleagues in the middle school believe that, when a student feels cared for and known, they are better able to learn. By the end of camp, he says, you’d see kids walking arm and arm and assume they’d gone to elementary school together, only to learn they are new friends.
“Mark sets a tone from the first moments that says ‘it’s fun; it’s important; we trust you to be fabulous!’,” says English teacher Sarah Pierson Wolff, “and as a result, it is and they are.”
Camp activities included a ropes course, small group challenges, and skits by eighth graders depicting what seventh graders need to know about being a Crossroadian.
“My favorite part of the experience this year,” says learning strategist Carrie Shaughnessy, “was observing a group of 8th graders successfully complete the ‘Beaver Crossing’ challenge. I’ve never seen the challenge completed with such intense confidence and encouragement. Failure after failure, this group stayed focused on the goal and adjusted their plan. The YMCA counselor leading the challenge commented that he had never seen a group collaborate so well together and reach success after an hour and 45 minutes!”
“We talk about how the adults are there for you,” says Mark, “but the majority of the choices you make as a middle schooler, you make yourself. We tell them they define the vibe. They create the middle school they most want to be in. We ask them to be themselves, but to be their best selves, and to make it easy as possible for others to be their best selves, too.”
Sharon Elliot says Camp Lakewood helps to “make the first few weeks of school go more smoothly for the students. They can set aside their anxieties about getting to know their classmates because that process is already underway by the time they walk through the door.”
In fact, art teacher Amy Enkelmann-Reed reports that, at the end of the first full week of school, she asked a 7th grader how she was adjusting to Crossroads. “She responded that she feels at home already in her new environment, and said she would never have made friends that fast if she had begun the year in the classroom.”