Sophomore retreat gives students fond memories, life lessons

posted on February 15, 2012

“Empowering,” “motivating,” “inspiring,” “memorable.” These are some of the words that members of Red Cloud’s sophomore class used to describe their recent class retreat. The daylong event, held at Camp Norwesca outside of Chadron, Nebraska, was focused around a theme of “Rites of Passage.”

The focus of this retreat was to help students navigate the passage from childhood to young adulthood. According to the statement of purpose created by the Spiritual Formation Department: “Sophomores are at that age where they are living between these two worlds. This retreat will help them to see visibly how to move towards maturity and responsibility, through Lakota and Catholic spirituality. Student Leaders will role model this transition. Older Lakota leaders will share the holistic Lakota perspective on making good choices in one’s life.”

The day started with a prayer, and then the students loaded the buses for the 70 mile drive to Camp Norwesca. Upon arrival, they broke into small groups and shared with each other in talking circles, reflecting on such questions as “How have you grown since freshman year?” In the early afternoon, the class divided up by gender. The male students went with community member and former Red Cloud teacher Alvin Slow Bear, and the female students’ activity was facilitated by high school Lakota language teacher Philomine Lakota.

In each of the sessions, the facilitating elder spoke to the students about maturing and coming of age in the traditional Lakota way. Then students were each given a piece of paper and told to divide it in half. On one half, they had to list childish behaviors; what they wanted to leave behind. On the other side, they listed mature behaviors that they wished to aspire to. Before the ceremony ended, they symbolically burned the half representing immature behaviors. Finally, they created necklaces for themselves with amulets carved in the shape of the turtle, which they each got to take home with them and keep. Most of the students found this to be a very powerful experience.

For the duration of the retreat, eight students from the junior and senior classes were chosen to be student leaders; facilitating group activities, providing guidance to the sophomores, and in some cases, giving testimonials of their own struggles, fears, and triumphs. Junior Tatiana Stands was one of these leaders. She reflected: “I believe it is great that we as older students are used as leaders because we’ve been through what the current sophomores are going through, and as the older students, we can give them our stories about…what we experienced, and how it changed us.”

The notion of rites of passage infused the majority of the activities that the students engaged in. As student leader Tobie Little Finger put it, “The main focus [of the retreat] was to help the sophomores leave behind their childish ways and become young adults.” The most memorable part of the retreat for her, however (as well as many of the other students), was not part of the official agenda. When the retreatants had gotten back on the school buses for the trip back to Red Cloud, some buses got stuck in the mud, and had to be freed with the aid of a tractor belonging to the retreat center. While the students were thrilled by this exciting turn of events, much credit must go to the volunteer bus drivers for keeping their heads in a sticky situation!

At the end of the day, it was the lessons they learned about personal growth that the students involved took with them. Sophomore Talea Black Tail Deer said, “The retreat was awesome and spiritual. It taught us about maturity; moving from an adolescent to an adult.” From the amount of sophomores who echoed this sentiment, it is clear that the faculty chaperones and student leaders did their job admirably.

More photos of the sophomore retreat can be found here.