At the start of every school year, upper school students and faculty take a few days away together to reflect on the new school year and strengthen their bond as a community. This year, 9th and 10th grade students traveled to Powell House, a Quaker retreat center near Albany, and 11th and 12th grade students went to Iroquois Springs, a camp just west of New Paltz. Below Upper Division Director Mark Doty and Upper Division Assistant Director Amy Levine offer their thoughts on this year’s retreats.
Powell House Reflection by Mark Doty, Upper Division Director
The 9th and 10th grade retreat was a huge success this year. Freshmen and sophomore students and faculty travelled to upstate New York to a Quaker retreat center called Powell House, where three of our staff members spent time as teenagers. The purpose of the trip was for students to get to know one another, explore leadership opportunities, have rich conversations about Quakerism and the way we learn, but most importantly to have fun.
We had a great time playing community games, going on hikes, swimming in the pond, and doing community service. Whether it was a one hundred-person game of Entourage or clearing brush, the group remained enthusiastic and involved in all the activities.
Each night ended with a campfire. The first night was quiet and included a ritual in which each student cast off a concern by tossing a stick into the fire. The second night was more jubilant as Sue, Duane, and John played some tunes while the rest of us sang and made smores. A highlight was listening to Tommy and his advisory belt out the lyrics to Katy Perry’s “Firework.”
Other parts of the trip had a more thoughtful tone. Students talked about their learning disabilities and shared with one another some challenging experiences. We also learned about the history of Quakerism and students explored a wide variety of ways to participate in silence. There were silent hikes, silent drawing, selecting one’s own spot to have silence and the traditional Silent Meeting with a query. Ninth graders also wrote letters to their future selves that will be returned to them on the night before graduation at our final Silent Meeting. Tenth graders took on a leadership role by answering questions about high school from 9th graders.
We returned to New York City with minds refreshed and bodies exhausted. It was a great way to kick off the year.
Iroquois Springs Reflection by Amy Levine, Upper Division Assistant Director
While the Upper Division retreat always provides an opportunity for faculty and staff to bond together and create lasting memories, this year’s 11th and 12th grade trip to Iroquois Springs was one for the books. The glorious weather set the tone for the trip, with summerlike conditions during the day and pleasantly cool weather at night. We took full advantage of all that the retreat site had to offer, including hiking, boating, basketball, ropes courses, and a high wall. A highlight was the competitive game of kickball between faculty and students. The outnumbered faculty made a valiant effort against a determined student team and ultimately lost.
As juniors and seniors work to prepare themselves for life outside of MMFS, the focus of the 11th and 12th grade retreat was leadership and community building. We spent time thinking about the qualities of good leadership and how students might foster those qualities in themselves. Students also discussed ways in which they could demonstrate those qualities during the regular school day and reach out to the 9th and 10th grades students in order to model good leadership behavior for them.
One of the most important and moving events of the retreat was the fire circle. On the second night of the trip, we all gathered around the campfire for what has become a tradition at both Powell House and Iroquois Springs. Students and faculty were given an index card and asked to write down a thought or feeling they carried over from the previous year that they would like to be rid of. We then moved into Silence and, one by one, tossed our index cards into the fire. Seniors concluded the activity by gathering around the fire to share their thoughts about leaving MMFS and their unique identity as a group. It was tremendously moving to hear how much the students support and accept each other, and made it clear to all who witnessed it that the Class of 2016 has bonded together in a very special way.