Last week I traveled to San Antonio, Texas to facilitate the St. Paul Catholic School 8th grade retreat.
This retreat is unique because it’s not only for students…but also for their parents as well! When I first heard four years ago that St. Paul held an annual student-parent retreat, my first thought was “Yeah, right. Getting parents, schools, and students all on the same page anywhere is next to impossible. In an urban setting and with the real challenges life presents to the modern family, there is no way the school can expect even a fraction of parents to attend.”
The first St. Paul 8th grade retreat I worked was in 2008…every student but 1 had at least one parent accompany them, and the majority came with both. I remember a powerful moment at the ’08 retreat when a student’s parents told me that following an activity in which students were affirmed by their classmates, they were on a walk with their daughter when she broke down in tears. They asked her what was wrong, encouraging her by recalling all the ways her classmates had affirmed her. It was then that she told her parents she did not feel that she would be able to affirm them in the same way, and that she was trying her best to “be good,” but she and her younger siblings needed them to demonstrate greater family leadership. The parents told me that this caught them completely off guard, but as the two of them discussed their daughter’s statement, they realized that in fact the character and values they were telling their children to abide by did not align with the ways they were living their own adult lives, and they vowed that they would begin working to make a change. They cited the retreat as being “the moment that saved our family.”
This retreat was just as profound for me as a facilitator, and I expect the same is true for the students and families. (It was particularly special for me because I taught these very same students in 5th grade!) Every student had at least one parent attend, again with many students having both parents present. I was personally struck by one family, the parents having divorced many years ago, yet both were on the retreat, a sign of love & support for their daughter. My parents first separated and later divorced when I was in second grade, and it was not until the post-season football banquet my senior year of college that they would both again sit with me at the same table, an experience that I’ll never forget and that I believe has led to personal and familial healing. But then again, I don’t remember us ever having the opportunity to attend a school-sponsored parent-student retreat together either.
This year, one activity students and parents really enjoyed was the development of a Power2Achieve Personal Character Touchstone. Using the a lesson plan, slides, and student materials from Power2Achieve Foundations Unit 5.1: Stand Up to Peer Pressure , each student developed their own personal character touchstone.
A P2A Character Touchstone:
- Is a statement of the way you want to live.
- Guides daily decision-making.
- Reminds us to put moral and performance character into action toward our desired goals.
Within the lesson, we refer to Daniel Pink’s book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (a book that should be required reading for every educator), where on page 154 he challenges the reader to answer the question “What’s your sentence?” Mr. Pink recently issued the same challenge online.
I could go on and on about the powerful potential of retreat experiences in both public and private schools, the importance of setting up a personal character touchstone, the need to create opportunities for parents and their children to get away from the everyday grind in order to have discussions that have greater depth. I could describe to you what it looked like when students presented their touchstones to their parents and explained why they had written it the way they had. I could cite research that explains why this kind of character development can and does improve academic achievement, motivation, school safety, and graduation rates….
Or, I could just show you what real 8th grade students, when given an opportunity and a process, said about who they are, and who they aspire to become…