It’s hard to believe that we’ve been in school for a month now, but as promised, here is the retreat plan from our back to school retreat and some thoughts on how the day went.  Feel free to use/adapt this plan to fit your own program.

Our theme for the day was “Love. Pray. Serve: a retreat based on the life and teachings of Mother Teresa”.  The schedule for the day is available here.back-to-school-retreat-plan

img_2510To start, we took all the class lists for 6th, 7th and 8th grade and divided students into 11 small groups.  Our goal was 8-10 students per group, and we were able to achieve that with the help of parent and other volunteers.  Each group had an adult who helped facilitate discussion etc.  We had parents, teachers, staff, priests and the local youth group leader to work with our small groups, which was awesome. We started the day with prayer, then a icebreaker, then spend the entire morning on the spiritual side of the retreat.

We had four small presentations of 15 minutes each:img_2512

  1. Who was Mother Teresa?
  2. Living the virtues in your life at school
  3. Becoming a person of prayer
  4.  Becoming a person who serves

We also had some chances for small group discussion and an art/prayer time (this was the one place in the morning where I grossly miscalculated time- if you do use our plan, then double that time).

We ended the morning portion with prayer and a blessing in our parish, which has a beautiful stained glass window of Mother Teresa.  It was a really wonderful way to close out our morning portion.

Then in the afternoon each of the classes went out to volunteer at organizations meeting the needs of the poor in our community.  The 8th graders went to the Union Gospel Mission doing a variety of tasks to help their mission of hunger and homelessness relief.  The 7th graders sorted potatoes at Northwest Harvest, a local organization that distributes food to area food banks.  The 6th graders went to our neighbor church (right across the street) and made nearly 1000 sandwiches for the church to use in their lunch program for homeless people.  All in all, our students probably impacted thousands of people in one afternoon, which was awesome.

Some things we learned through the experience:

  1.  Starting the year with a retreat was the best things we could have done.  We will definitely be doing it again next year.
  2. The half day format for the talking portions was the right amount of time for this age group.  Doing service in the afternoon was a great way to put our words from the morning into action.
  3. Two places we could and did use more time were: the art project and recess.  Students needed that time to interact in a more informal setting.
  4. Next year I’d like to connect with the parish more- maybe invite parishioners to be small group leaders or have the day end with students attending the daily mass at the parish.

Please let me know if you have questions, would like talk outlines etc.