By Ava ’26
Becoming a new 9th grade student in the middle of a 7-12th grade school felt extremely overwhelming to me when I first got accepted to HW. As someone who had gone to a kindergarten through 8th grade school, I had always known who my classmates were and what I was to expect of how I fit in it all, especially in a social aspect. However, one thing that did calm some of those nerves was knowing that we had a 9th grade retreat, sometime in the middle of the first quarter of the year.
Making friends was not the issue. When I made it to HW, it was surprisingly calm and easy to fit into it all. Fast Start, an orientation program HW has for new students, was especially helpful with finding my group of people. When we started school however, I started to see the increasing divide between ‘new ninth graders’ and people who had started since 7th grade. It was never rude or outwardly obvious, but clear once you started after a few weeks. People had their own friends, and I had mine. In my experience, the first few weeks of school, kids stayed with the people who had entered at their grade level, and only few people went between those boundaries. Retreat, then, came at the perfect time, the ideal time, to the point where all of the new kids had made enough friends to find our own tent buddies, but not become so close that there were unbreakable cliques formed after only a few weeks of a new school.
I have never gone camping once in my 15 years of life at this point, and so you can probably assume I was very nervous to explore this new experience. This four day retreat to the Colorado River was looming ahead of me in my future, and it all came so suddenly. We were all on a bus, early in the morning, most of us in pajamas, for the hours-long drive. Not a lot of us had brought our phones, so we tried doing other things. People brought cards, and there were even some games that involved almost everyone on the bus. When we finally got to our campsite, we met all of our group mates and practiced the skills that we needed to row in a little lake before we had to row the next day in the river. It was overwhelming but also fun, laughing when people capsized their boats and learning how to tie out boats together. We did team-building activities outside of the water as a group, but I had the most fun on the water.
When we weren’t rowing with our partners, which switched frequently, we were swimming. There were footballs and water polo balls brought along as well as water guns, and without any other people around, everybody in our small retreat group got to know each other well. I made friends that I have a longstanding relationship with today. Once retreat was over, whenever our group mates would see each other, we would joke about retreat or stop and talk to each other for a while. Personally, I am so thankful for the retreat, as it was an amazing experience which allowed me to go out of my comfort zone and meet new people and become friends with people I wouldn’t have originally met or even talked to in the first place.