One of the oldest and most enduring traditions, Powhatan held it’s 39th Upper School Retreat at Camp Rim Rock in West Virginia. A wonderful event that encourages teamwork and collaboration through two days worth of fun and sometimes challenging events, it is an experience that bonds classmates and teachers alike and is one of the important milestones in the Upper School.

Upper School Retreat sets the tone for the year.

We set aside two days at the beginning of each year because we think it’s important to start the year off right and come together as a school community. It is full of team building and tradition – and that’s how we build and reinforce our school culture.


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Full Value Contract

A centerpiece of Retreat is the Full Value Contract.

One of the unique facets of the Upper School community is the Advisement program. Throughout the regular school year each faculty member mentor meets with twelve students for four mornings each week based on the Responsive Classroom SEL program. It supports student’s social and emotional growth throughout the year and it starts with Retreat.

Almost immediately upon arrival at camp the students break into their advisement groups and begin to work on how they will make the most out of their Retreat experience. They create written guidelines taking personal responsibility for how they will contribute to and make the most positive impact on the retreat.

Many of the advisement groups used the 5 Pillars of the Powhatan School mission statement as a framework for creating the Full Value Contract. As Retreat comes to a close, students are reminded that the Full Value Contract is not just for Retreat, but is a contract for how we will treat each other for the rest of the school year.

POSTS & RAILS Captains

Post & Rail Captains are selected for the coming year during Upper School Retreat. Each Applicant is required to make a presentation in front of all Upper School students as selections are made. Rail students in Upper School then vote for Rail captains, and Post students in Upper School vote for Post captains. It’s a significant leadership position and applies to all areas of our school community.

Challenge Activities

The first afternoon is full of activities. Students might go on a hike or participate in team building challenge activities. This year’s activities focused on a common theme of problem-solving. “The students love the challenge activities,” says Mr. Royston, an 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.”

Students were allotted an hour for this activity. This includes a brief description and overview, travel to solo sites, 40 minutes of solo time, travel back, and a collaborative debrief. The activity is a time for reflection and bringing one’s complete attention to the present experience on a moment-to-moment basis – with nothing other than you and your thoughts out in nature.

A few points to consider with Solo:

+ So much of our time these days is predestined and organized that we rarely take the time to simply sit, think, reflect, and be in nature…we feel we always have to be doing something.
+ This is a challenge; sitting quietly by oneself can be extremely difficult, especially for a product of today’s fast paced, digitally connected society.
+ This time is theirs and its outcome will be determined by their attitude alone.
+ Feel free to listen to the leaves, stare at the clouds, or watch a bug. If they give this short challenge a whole-hearted try…they might be surprised what they get out of it.
+ This is time for reflection and bringing one’s complete attention to the present experience on a moment-to-moment basis.
+ Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment.
+ In survival type activities, students are asked to spend a day or even three days solo. (which is significantly harder than our hour long session)

The group task is to keep a beach ball or balloon in the air for a specified number of hits without letting it hit the ground. Additionally, no one person can touch the object twice in a row. Set a goal with the group for the number of hits that the group can make following the rules. After the group meets its goal, it can increase the target number or go for a “world record” and see how many hits the group can accomplish. This fun activity is much harder than it seems, strengthening teamwork, communication and critical thinking skills as the group reviews their strategy and creates a plan for the next attempt.

Magic Carpet
The group stands on an 8’x8′ “magic carpet” (tarp). The entire group must be on the tarp completely. Once everyone is settled, the group is told they have risen 100 feet in the air and are ready to go. Unfortunately, the instructions on how to steer and land the carpet are on the other side of the carpet. So, they must flip the carpet over while standing on it.

Team Pit Fall
One faculty member mentioned that this challenge looked like a giant pinball machine! In this challenge you simply have to work the ball through the maze while avoiding the pit falls (holes in the maze). Every member of the group must hold one of the ropes on the maze. Advisors could make it increasingly difficult by switching positions, turning students around backwards, limiting talking, doing it with their eyes closed and using different size balls.


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