By Hannah ’25
When I first came to Harvard-Westlake, I was in awe of how big the school community was. Coming from a very small school where a grade level was no more than twenty people, I was shocked that so many people can be so close and connected to one another. After being a student at HW, I realized that both the tight-knit community and the closeness of students are due to a multitude of reasons, one of which being Grade Level Retreats.
Harvard-Westlake retreats at the middle school occur every year for all three grade levels, and at the upper school, seniors have a retreat at the end of the year, right before graduation. The middle school retreats take place every year in October. Seventh graders visit El Capitan Canyon, eighth graders have the option of visiting Catalina Island or camping in Joshua tree, and finally, ninth graders have a four-day canoeing trip through the Colorado River.
I was very excited for seventh-grade retreat, so once the informational meetings started, I didn’t stop thinking about it. Despite only being at Harvard-Westlake for a few weeks, I was about to go spend four days with people I barely knew. The deans and other faculty did a great job of making everyone prepared for our trip, so when the day finally came to get on a bus and go to El Capitan, I was not only excited, but also prepared.
After two hours on the bus, we finally pulled over to a grassy area near our campsite where we met our naturalists (group leaders). We started with some ice breaker games then we headed towards our campsite. When it came time to go to our cabins, our naturalists called our names and told us what cabins to go to. Our luggage was dumped out in big piles and we needed to find our bags and carry them to our cabins. My cabin was one of the bigger ones with five people and we needed to walk across a bridge to a different part of the campsite with all of our bags.
After walking into the cabin and finding out who my buddies were, I was ecstatic. The cabin was so big and nice and it actually had air conditioning. And I wasn’t completely thrown into the deep end because I knew most of the people in my cabin. The deans always do a great job of making sure that you at least know people that you’re going to be living with.
The next couple of days were lots of fun. We had activities like kayaking, sailing, and completing a ropes course, as well as hiking, swimming, and playing with llamas. Needless to say, by the end of the trip, I was glad I left my phone at home. After sharing stories, funny moments, and making memories, I definitely felt more immersed within my school community and more connected with my classmates and peers.
What I love about Harvard-Westlake is that all the teachers and faculty truly care that students feel comfortable with their classmates and find a sense of belonging in the HW community. Retreat is just one program that helps with this; we also have spirit days, welcome events, orientation programs, homecoming, and fun school-wide traditions, all of which help students become part of the Harvard-Westlake community.