One of the questions that is often asked by parents considering Powhatan School for their child is:

How do you help new students transition to Powhatan?

As with many of our approaches, it is not a one-size fits all answer. Let’s break it down:

Upper School:

One of the oldest and most enduring traditions, students in grades 6-8 head to Camp Rim Rock for Upper School Retreat each fall to start off the year. An experience that encourages teamwork and collaboration through two days worth of fun and challenging events, it is an experience that bonds classmates and teachers alike and is one of the important milestones in the Upper School.

It is the perfect way to help new students make the transition to Powhatan. “There’s no testing, no homework,” says Dr. Hessberg the Upper School Director. “The focus is on building community. The days are long and full of team building activities and  positive interactions with new friends and faculty. It’s great for new students because Upper School Retreat is designed around bringing people together and reinforces our sense of community.”

The Advisement program helps greatly and is incorporated into Upper School Retreat. Almost immediately upon arrival at camp the students begin to work on how they will make the most out of the experience by creating the Full Value Contract. Students work in small groups with their faculty advisor to create written guidelines taking personal responsibility for how they will contribute to and make the most positive impact on the retreat. Each year there is a theme for the school and Civility is the theme for the 2018-19 academic year and the theme was woven throughout the framework of creating the Full Value Contract. It is a good way for new students to begin to acclimate to the school culture and to embrace the five pillars of the school:


They will meet twice weekly with their faculty advisor and fellow advisees throughout the school year. As Retreat comes to a close students are reminded that the Full Value Contract is not just for Retreat, but is a contract for the rest of the school year.

Each afternoon is full of activities. Students might go on a hike or participate in team building challenge activities. Each year activities focused on a common skill – this year challenges were focused on communication. “The students love the challenge activities, says Mr. Royston, the Upper School Art teacher. “They have to work together, communicate efficiently and problem solve. Those are great skills to sharpen whether you are in the classroom or outdoors in a setting like this. Retreat sets the tone for the year.”

Lower School:

Fifth grade is a bridge year. While they share Upper School specials and are leaders in the Lower School, they aren’t quite yet technically in the Upper School just yet. So to help prepare them as leaders of the Lower School, they are treated to a one-day off-site retreat to start the year. It is full of team building activities built around the themes of trust, teamwork, communication, collaboration, learning from failure and respect.

The majority of students in Pre-K and Kindergarten are new to the school, so the first few weeks are focused on building community, making friends and getting comfortable with the new surroundings. In the rest of the Lower School, we build on the community activities and add another piece to the approach to help with their transition as new students are paired with a classroom buddy for the first few weeks of school. Walk through our classrooms for the first few days of school and you will find fun games and creative activities designed to build community. The goal is to make all of our new students feel welcome and connect with classmates and teachers.