- Middle School
“What you want to ignite in others must first burn inside yourself.” — Charlotte Bronte
With the end of the school year upon us, another class of extraordinary young adults will be graduating and embarking on their next journey in life. After being surrounded by Clark’s supportive and loving close-knit communal arms for so many years, our graduates scatter amongst the plethora of wonderful high schools in our community and beyond. Some students will attend high school with other “Clarkies” while others will start their freshman year without knowing anyone. Either way, the feelings of excitement, trepidation, and fear of the unknown can be overwhelming and even a bit scary.
However, this won’t be the last time our graduates will experience these feelings in life. No matter the age, we are human and feelings of uncertainty are meant to be experienced to help us heal, learn, and grow. Where there is success, there is failure. Where there is confidence, there is insecurity. Where this is love, there is loss. They are all part of the human experience. As a school community, the question is, how can we help our graduates navigate these feelings in the best possible way so they can become the best versions of themselves?
Open Space and Intentional Time
One way we do this at Clark is by setting aside some very intentional time to pause, slow down, and listen to our oldest students. Every May, during the last full day of school, we load our 8th graders on a bus, smeared with bug spray and sunscreen, and take them off campus for their Ignite Retreat. We happily leave our school books and cell phones behind to spend a full day and evening together exploring our feelings and addressing our fears regarding the upcoming high school years.
Who inspires you?
What are you passionate about?
What values do you hold dear in your heart?
What are you most afraid of?
Who do you want to become?
We encourage the students to dig a little deeper into discovering what they hold closest and dearest in their hearts. We help them ignite the fire that is already within each and every one of them.
What Would You Do With Your Life If You Knew You Would Succeed?
Through guided reflection activities, our students address this very question. By giving them a safe space to dream and imagine, they start to focus on their most passionate desires. The students set intentions and goals in four key areas of their lives: self, family, school, and friendship. After independently setting these goals, the students then create a visual of what all of their goals look like collectively. The idea is to help them understand that the limits we tend to put on ourselves and our feelings of inadequacy and insecurity, tend to block out the big dreams we may have simmering under the surface of our heart. But, what would happen if we knew we would succeed with our goals? How high of a bar would we set for ourselves?
Put Your Own Oxygen Mask On First
As the saying goes, you have to help yourself before you can help others… it’s important to put your own oxygen mask on first. While we fire up the grills and get ready for dinner and stories by the bonfire, we take the 8th graders for a hike through the rolling woods. In pairs, the students share ideas about what they personally need in order to have a balanced life. We ask them: What are the key essentials needed in your daily life that will help you feel prepared to tackle the day and the goals you have set for yourself? Is it sleep? Time alone? Exercise? Having someone to share your thoughts with? What do those personal essentials look like, sound like or taste like? We can’t possibly accomplish all that we want unless we continuously fill our own cup with things that feed our spirit and nurture our heart. The list the students personally create gets tucked in their pocket. Our hope is that they remember this list when they need it the most as they approach this next chapter in their life.
Heading Toward the Future
After a day of reflection, fresh air, and laughter, we hope our students leave even just a little more prepared to tackle what’s before them. At Clark, we greatly value our connection with our students. But more importantly, our goal is for our students to be able to connect with themselves. And hopefully, by the time our students graduate and are ready to take the exhilarating leap into high school, they will have the confidence and desire to tackle the world ahead.
About the Author
Learning Specialist and Leadership Program Coordinator