After a year of separation, sophomores connect during retreat

Audrey Matzke, Reporter

Peer leader Linsbert Reynolds creates a skit with his advisory during sophomore retreat, which began Sept. 29. (Peter Stern)

Following a year of compensatory zoomed-in gatherings, U-High’s once-annual sophomore retreat resumed Sept. 29, giving the class a long-awaited chance at in-person connection. 

The retreat — a three-day, service-learning getaway based in Camp Chi at Lake Delton, Wisconsin — began like any other school trip: with a very long bus-ride. Departing from U-High at 7:30 a.m. Sept. 29, student Yolo Martinez said the three-hour drive gave her a chance to get to know people.

“Especially since we were remote last year, no one really knew who was new,” Yolo said, reflecting on how retreat gave almost everyone a fresh start. “It was a nice experience to meet both the new people from last year and the new people from this year.”

Upon arrival, the students participated in a series of team-building activities. Senior peer leader Kennedi Bickham said she and her fellow peer leaders had a hand in revising, and eventually, facilitating this schedule, along with adviser Meghan Janda and service learning coordinator Katie Clendenning. 

Especially since we were remote last year, no one really knew who was new. It was a nice experience to meet both the new people from last year and the new people from this year.”

“The peer leaders really helped assisting with specifics,” Kennedi said. “[Faculty] already had the itinerary for the most part, but sometimes we were like ‘No, that’s not going to work,’ or ‘the kids aren’t going to like that,’ and that’s when we stepped in and changed it and presented new ideas.

Kennedi says the remote location and academic respite brought out the best in all her fellow peer leaders, bringing them closer in the process. 

“Even though we’re all from different sorts of friend groups, we all just sort of connect and work,” Kennedi said. “That really helped the experience as well, because if someone was having like a problem, we could just fall back on each other and talk it out.”

For Zoe Nathwani, sophomore, Wisconsin Dells boat tour The Original Ducks was among her favorite activities. She said the expedition gave her a scenic opportunity to reconnect as the military-style vehicle moved on both land and water. 

“I ended up being with a couple of people I used to be friends with in middle school and stuff,” she said. The duck boats were like an hour long, so it gave me a chance to talk to them.”

As for the community service portion of the retreat, Yolo said it fit right in. Her group spent the day landscaping at Veterans Equine Trail Services, and for her, collaborative physical labor was the perfect bonding opportunity. 

“It was really hands on, so people were talking and connecting through being outside and working with the horses,” Yolo said. 

The coronavirus pandemic may have stolen away their foundational, ninth-grade bonding, but the class members are already making memories. Zoe said the advisory talent show was one of her favorite activities

“Our advisory came up with ‘human bowling,’” she said. “It worked really well when we were practicing, then not so well during the actual competition. But we did win.”