Stillwater Runs Deep for Senior Peer Group Leaders and Ninth Grade Class
Stillwater Runs Deep for Senior Peer Group Leaders and Ninth Grade Class

Overnight Retreat Caps Off a Special Year of Leadership, Identity-Building and Teamwork

The weather was cold last Friday at the Fairview Lake YMCA Camp and Conference Center in Stillwater, NJ, but hearts were warm all around as the senior Peer Leaders thoroughly enjoyed a culminating retreat with their freshmen "classes" along with Peer Group faculty advisors Jill Thomas, Michelle Simonds, Tom Quigley and Jamie McCulloch.

The Peer Group Retreat was an especially meaningful way to bring the year of relationship-building and mentorship full circle. Activities like the egg drop, intensity ball and skits, the challenging mountain hike, and gathering around a blazing bonfire provided the framework for the freshmen to demonstrate teamwork, competitive energy and kindness while cultivating deeper relationships with their classmates and the senior leaders. The hard work and energy put into organizing the retreat by senior leaders and faculty was well worth it and a truly gratifying experience for all.

See more photos of the Peer Leaders and their freshmen 'classes" on our Flickr album!

As the seniors reflected on the retreat experience, they shared highlights that underscored their own journeys as well as the individual and collective growth of the Ninth Grade over the course of the year. Among many memorable experiences was the sharing of personal objects with the group. Participants were empathetic and listened deeply as their classmates trusted in their mutual vulnerability while sharing objects of significance. The strenuous hike gave seniors and freshmen the chance to have meaningful conversations with each other amidst the shared struggle of climbing an icy mountain.

In another notable activity, everyone participated in performing skits based on different superheroes. Even ninth-graders who seemed to be quiet in nature took on roles that brought out their personalities and reflected their personal growth.

Senior leaders shared that the retreat was a powerful and humbling experience as they observed how the freshmen built on relationships the Peer Leaders played a role in cultivating. Seniors also genuinely valued the opportunity to interact with each other off campus and appreciate the shared success of leading freshman classes in a rustic retreat setting after going through an intense year learning about leadership, identity and teamwork.

As faculty advisor Jill Thomas observed, "It was truly amazing to watch the connections that were solidified among the freshmen groups and their leaders, as well as among the senior leaders themselves. All their hard work throughout the year yielded so much during this time together and the senior leaders were proud knowing that their hard work really does pay off."

The following two Peer Leader reflections vividly bring to life not only the retreat itself but its meaning and impact:

Senior Connor McIntyre noted, "This retreat was an epic way to encapsulate everything we've built in Peer Group Four. All year we've been trying to disregard the idea of individuals in peer group and build ourselves into a cohesive unit, and this retreat revealed how successful we were. Our skit, even though we didn't win, was a fun time together that everyone got involved in. Completely embarrassing, but it was so worth just seeing the smile on their faces. At the end of the night, out by the bonfire, some of the quietest members talked to me at length about how much fun they were having and the relationships they had built. After lights out, I was on the floor, laughing, when Anthony shared personal, and hysterical, stories for one of the first times this year. These moments were true highlights that made me feel good as a person and accomplished as a mentor."

Senior Sasha Sindhwani also offered some thoughtful reflections. "This was a great experience for not just the freshmen but the senior leaders as well," she shared. "As the freshmen connected with one another, they included us as more responsible versions of themselves as they looked to improve their characters (and acting skills). The entire retreat experience was full of packed energy, put to work at the right time and with the right people. Playing seemingly simple camp games, we were able to take it to an unexplored intensity. On the hike up the mountain, you could see amazing conversations;" Sindhwani recalled, concluding, "at the peak, we were all just caught in this beautiful moment on the mountain with awestruck faces, and I couldn't have asked for more."

Senior Peer Leaders:

Hailey Young
Aidan York
Sasha Sindhwani
Nashleen Salazar
Rakesh Potluri
Jimmy O'Connor
Connor McIntyre
Maggie Laughlin
Kelsey Lane
Zoë Jackson
Jake Harris
Flynn Gorman
Walter Emann
Diggy Coit
Ben Blitz
Maddy Birch
Sam Bernardi
Gwen Allen