JH is a senior at an all-boys Catholic high school in La Canada Flintridge, CA. He lives in Pasadena, CA.
JH talked to me about a school retreat he just went on, which they host every year:
“We have a different retreat every year, but the senior retreat is called ‘Kairos’…we spend like the last week of classes at a center near Santa Barbara, but they don’t really tell us where we’re going…we just left after school one day. It’s pretty religious-based and we talked a lot about God and the Catholic Church and stuff, but more of it was spiritual, like we talked about our personal relationship with God and spirituality and stuff. On the second day they surprised us with letters from our parents, and both of our parents had to write us a letter with stuff they may not have told us or with like, things they wanted us to know…some people got letters from siblings too, and they mostly talked about how we’re at an important transition in our lives, talking about becoming an adult and stuff. And then we all had to share a lot too, and people talked about really awful things that had happened in their past that we had no idea about, and our teachers and the priests did too…I think we all got a lot closer, opening up like that…I wasn’t expecting to really buy into the whole retreat thing, but I think I learned a lot in the end. When we got back, they led us into the auditorium where all our parents were sitting, and they were cheering for us, and we went and sat up on stage where they talked a little about the week, and then we all had to go up to the microphone and talk about our experiences that week, and then we would go and sit with our parents.”
I asked JH if he felt it was more of a religious retreat or a school/class retreat:
“Definitely more about our class than religion. The religion was a big part of it, but even just going to a Catholic school they were never necessarily trying to convert us or anything, and they were really inclusive both at the retreat and at the school like in general.”
A lot of high schools that have the resources put on these “retreats” for their students, especially at the end of senior year, or the end of their high school career. It helps usher these students through the liminal period, or help them slow down and understand the importance of the transition they’re in the midst of, and by emphasizing parental involvement JH’s school highlights the community aspect, where families would play a big role in celebrating the child’s transition to adulthood. This is actually the first kind of retreat I’d heard of that gave parents such a role – usually it revolves more around the school’s influence and presence in the students’ lives.
My informant graduated in 2011 from Notre Dame Academy Girl’s High School in West Los Angeles, California. She currently attends UCLA in Westwood, California. Notre Dame Academy, often called NDA, is a Catholic, all girls school with many traditions the students participate in annually. My informant told me about the one she considers most exciting and memorable: NDA Day.
“So, NDA day is basically, like, our spirit day, um, except maybe a bit more involved than at some other schools. Um and, okay so, it starts off with a mass, because it’s a celebration of our Lady, ‘Notre Dame.’ Um, and at this mass all the girls are required to wear full dress uniform, um which just basically means you have to wear your red plaid skirt rather than the khaki one, um, a white blouse, your blazer, and nice shoes. Like, no tennis shoes. Um, and sometimes girls will put a bit more effort into the way they look, than they would on a normal day. Um so some girls will like wear make-up or straighten their hair or whatever. Um but then there’s a mass. Um, a Catholic mass. And afterwards, while we’re still in the gym. Oh, uh, we do mass in the gym because our chapel isn’t big enough for the whole school. Um, but anyway, after the mass, the spirit stuff starts. Um, so basically the freshmen get up first, and they’re all sitting in the same area and they have some girls who were appointed, like, cheerleaders who go to the podium, and they scream and spell out their grade level, so F-R-E-S-H-M-E-N, uh and then they bang on the chairs and scream really loudly and stuff. Um, but then the sophomores go, and the freshmen realize that the spell out doesn’t just have to be a chant, because all the other grade levels also have like a rhyme or a song to go with their theme. Oh, and each grade has a theme for the day and it’s usually supposed to be an alliteration with their grade level, like FBI Freshmen, Supernova Seniors, you know, things like that. Um so after that, each grade is dismissed back to their classrooms and all the girls change into costumes or crazy outfits or whatever—oh and also, each class has a color that they have all four years, um, so you’re either red, green, blue, or purple. And the grades incorporate their color into what they’re wearing on NDA day. So, once everyone’s dressed, um, you go out into the parking lot to take a picture with your class and the poster someone in your grade designed, or something. Uh, and once everyone’s taken a picture, there’s a sort of parade. Um, where we walk around the perimeter of our school and go to the little school, um, the elementary school, and the elementary kids are outside and you, like, high-five and stuff. And that whole time you’re basically, like, cheering the cheers your class made up to go with your theme or just your graduation year or something. Um, and you’re taking lots of pictures, like lots and lots of pictures, like not just during the parade but during the entire day. It’s a pretty memorable event. So then after the parade, we all go back into our gym and play volleyball. Um, each grade level has a team and the rule is that no varsity, uh actually, no school players can play on the NDA day volleyball team. Um, you can be a coach, but you can’t play. So it’s not really all that competitive. But the matches are that you play your sister class, so juniors play freshmen and seniors play sophomores and then the two winners play each other and then the winner of that match plays the faculty. So that’s pretty fun. If you’re not playing, you just stand on the side and scream and stuff. And do cheers. There’s a lot of cheering. Um, and after the volleyball game they provide us with lunch. Um, and then after that, it’s time for the skits. Uh, so each class has to do a skit and a dance. Usually they try to incorporate the dance into the skit. So it’s, like, in the middle or something. And the faculty do a skit also, which is usually pretty hilarious. Um and each class gets 5 minutes, I think, maybe 10, I can’t remember. But the seniors definitely get more. Probably like 20 minutes. And that’s because seniors also get to make a video, which usually comes out pretty good. And it’s all just supposed to be, like, silly and funny. So then whatever time is left in the day they’ll just put, like, music on in the gym and turn it into a dance party, basically. But there’s usually not much time so you just go back to class. And that’s it. Oh and then, uh, you get the day after off of school, which is nice. Because NDA day is exhausting.”
My informant enjoyed this spirit day quite a bit and cites it as one of the things she misses about high school. Spirit days are a common occurrence in many high schools, but every school does it differently.