A vital element of faith schools is the provision of a retreat programme. They are exactly as the word ‘retreat’ suggests – an opportunity to take a step back, so that students can reflect, re-evaluate and contemplate. They consist of a spiritual and pastoral focus which aims to have a positive effect on the wellbeing of students. As we return from lockdown and students continue to take steps in this new way of being, and many internalise the effects of a restricted lifestyle; retreats come into their own as a perfect opportunity for supporting our school community.
“It won’t be long before this generous God has great plans for us in Christ – eternal and glorious plans they are! He will have you put together and on your feet for good.”
(1 Peter 5:10-11)
The first factor to take into account for retreats is location, the environment can have a huge effect on perception and mood. We are incredibly fortunate to be able to use the premises of Sulis Manor, a beautiful house with delightful views and extensive grounds. Students were then able to spend the entire day off site with their tutor group. We try to use a blend of self-reflection, prayer, games, workshops and tasks to make the days poignant, purposeful and rewarding.
Content for the days was tailored to each year group, taking into account age, maturity and a development of themes as our students’ journey in faith. For example, our Year 7 students looked at coming together as a new group, preparing to be tolerant and forgiving with each other, ‘clothing themselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.’ (St Paul’s letter to the Colossians 3:12). Year 8 students explored the idea that whoever we are, whatever our circumstances, every person in the world is equal. Although our journeys in life differ so much, our faith teaches us that every person is to be valued. We delved into attitudes towards refugees and migrants, xenophobia, and how each of us is entitled to hopes and dreams.
Finally, our Year 9s moved on to the choices we make which come from knowing our true selves and being courageous to act upon them. They used the Old Testament prophet Jonah as a focus, looking at how he went from allowing others to influence his life before becoming confident enough to respond in ways true to himself. Our students were able to discuss a wide range of ‘big issues’ in the world whilst respecting the opinions of others, showing energy and passion for their arguments and allowing their personalities to shine.
Having the opportunity to spend a full day with every student in Key Stage 3 has allowed Mrs Ruck and myself, as the school Chaplain, to focus on the wellbeing of each of them. The tutor group as a community is often the closest and most consistent safety net. By allowing them to take a step back from academic work together, it gives them the freedom and space to recognise one another too. The first line of our school creed states ‘…we are a family’, beginning the school year post-lockdown with retreats has enabled us to do what families do best – look out for how they are really doing.