Every year at the end of August, each of the Elements of Education partner schools SOTA, SAMi and iDEA kick off the new semester with a three day all-school retreat. Black Lake Bible Camp has been a place of community and team-building for the schools for several years. The very grounds of Camp Black Lake are the perfect setting to promote togetherness and tranquility: All of the spaces are communal and open, with quick access to both lake and forest. The short time spent there is packed with an array of activities that involve every member of both student and staff alike. All-school events such as showcase and class breakouts accompany smaller group activities like mentor group meetings, team building exercises and peaceful in-cabin readings. Of course, amidst the continual action there is the need for some rest. Recreation time, though often spent unwinding and relaxing, is when many great relationships are created or further developed (especially for freshmen!). Those who go to Camp Black Lake leave with new connections, and new ideas of what their school means to them.
We interviewed four incoming SAMi juniors about their experiences at one of the school’s most popular traditions. They answered the following questions:
How did you feel before going to the retreat?
What experience was most meaningful during the retreat?
How have you used your experiences to help others?
What would you tell a freshman, or someone who was thinking of attending?
Here is what students who have experienced the All School Retreat have to say:
- Before going on the All School Retreat I am always very excited. I love to meet new mentor group members and see friends I haven’t talked to since the end of the school year. I don’t attend any other overnight camps, so I always look forward to the experience.
- Last year during a breakout session my mentor group was challenged with a simple rope tied between two trees. Only two rules: You can’t go under or around it. I was really nervous because I don’t like people picking me up and I can’t jump well, so I was really not looking forward to it. After a few of the athletic people hopped over it was my turn to get helped over. I was super nervous but I enlisted my trust in my peers and I made it over. I then helped put my other fellow mentor group members. It was really cool to know everyone trusted each other and we really bonded after that experience.
After my experiences at the All School Retreat you really become better friends with everyone and it’s really amazing. I’ve used my experiences to bond over the school year and reminisce. We definitely had more trust during "Happies and Crappies", a time for sharing the good and the bad. It’s also kinda hard not to trust someone who has seen your bed head. All in all my experiences at the retreat has lead to powerful friendships, that may not have happened without it.
I would tell them not to be afraid of making new friends, playing games, swimming, or even going on stage. Camp is about connections and if you don’t make those connections it’s going to be hard going into the school year knowing no one. Make the most out of camp because once it’s over you can’t go back.
- I usually feel very excited but also super anxious before camp. It’s a bunch of mixed emotions because I’m going to see all my friends and the teachers.
- … going to camp every year makes me realize how fast this whole high school thing goes by and how important and fun it actually all is. So I’d say probably the balance of business in the front and party in the back.
- I think I’ve used my experiences to help others by being more inclusive. I feel like I look out for people who are struggling or need help and do my best to help them adapt and feel comfortable with whatever they need.
… SAMi is a great school… it’s very much self taught and like college life and if you’re not ready for that then you need to think through going. It’s also a great place to meet friends, even if you’re leaving all your old ones behind, you’ll find better ones and you’ll fit in, so if your friends are altering your decision, forget it.
- I feel excited and overwhelmed. I signed myself up for a lot this year and I want to prove myself to others that I can handle it.
In previous retreats the most meaningful experience I’ve had is yelling from the audience at showcases and really feeling the community.
This year I’m leading an activity in my mentor group that was really meaningful to me. We share what pilar we are going to focus on and why and then talk about what they mean to us and then share what we think the worst and best things that can happen this year are. It sounds more intimidating than it is.
I would tell them, “Don’t be afraid to jump in. It’s easier to sit back and let fear envelop you, but the best moments are when you don’t think about the fear or skepticism and just be 100% yourself.
- Before the retreat I was super nervous. I thought I wouldn’t know anyone there and that I was going to have a hard time making friends at school. Going into freshman year puts a lot of pressure on you because of all the changes you’re making.
The most meaningful experience during camp for me is probably meeting our mentor group, because while you don’t know almost 500 kids you’ve got a group of about 20 that are familiar around the camp and are all really excited for you as a freshman. Everybody in my mentor group was extremely [accepting] and helpful, which caused me to act this way with our incoming freshies.
Again, camp helps you become more comfortable with everybody you’ll be in school with, and because of this, the students who are exceptionally shy, are encouraged to join the SAMi community and become open to the experience. Being at SAMi made me a more outgoing person helping me to be more caring for other students and help them through the transition into high school.
One thing I would tell freshmen coming into SAMi is to be open to new experiences. Sticking with the two or three people you know shelters you from meeting really great people!