A Sense of Belonging

Today’s post is by guest blogger and CPLS junior Emma Nasseri     

  For two days at the beginning of every school year, the CPLS high school students pile into minivans and drive to Living Water Ranch for a retreat. The seniors, after a summer of preparation for their new roles as leaders, greet the underclassmen as they pull up to the ranch and help them carry their bedding to the streamer-strung bunk beds. Then, for two days, students lead praise and worship in the meeting hall and dash across the ranch’s open fields in intense games of Mission Impossible. They eat together, hike together, and laugh together. But the retreat is about more than just having fun. These games and challenges only serve as a way to introduce the real goal: community.

       It’s true that academics at Cair Paravel are not always easy, but every student has the assurance that they have a community of people supporting them, encouraging them, and walking alongside them. “We are classmates,” says one high school student, “but more than that, we’re brothers and sisters.”

       Retreat takes the idea of family to a deeper level. Each senior leads a small group of underclassmen in discussion and fellowship over the span of the retreat. These senior groups are especially beneficial for incoming freshmen, who are unfamiliar with high school life. Senior groups also provide an opportunity for seniors to step up in leadership, building and growing their relationships with the underclassmen that they might not otherwise get to know.

       One senior says that her favorite part of the high school retreat is seeing the bonds that are made between kids that wouldn’t normally hang out. “One of the best moments,” she said, “was one of our senior boys bear-hugging a shy sophomore boy after he scored a point in water kickball. It’s just great to see everyone come together.”      

 Another retreat highlight is the annual faculty skit, where students get to see who the teachers are when they’re not standing behind a podium. Yes, teachers are teachers, but first, they’re people. And they can actually be pretty funny. Not only that, but the willingness of the faculty to spend a night in the almost-wilderness proves the devoted investment that they have in their students. Beyond just their peers, students have the assurance that they are supported by a team of teachers, who are faithful in the work to which God has called them.

The retreat sets the tone for the school year more effectively than any syllabus. It sets students up for success by creating an environment where they are safe to grow. It serves as a symbol, using their community to remind students of their identity. These two days emphasize to high schoolers that they are more than just students, artists, and athletes. They are brothers and sisters. They are Kings and Queens of Narnia. But above anything else, they are members of God’s family. And in His community, they truly belong.