March Retreat: Regrouping, Re-energizing, and Moving Forward

For most of my time in high school, I’ve been participating in forms of progressive education to further causes that I really believe in, but until this year I’d never experienced anything like “What’s the Story?” Learning about my topic has increased my understanding of one facet of Vermont education and made me a more skilled researcher, but more than that, it’s really underscored the importance of keeping my mind open to new ideas and letting my perceptions of a topic be a starting point, not a defining lens. I let my preconceptions influence my thinking although I tried to be very vigilant at the beginning of the year about not making assumptions, and most of the ones I did make were based on the research I found and media coverage I explored (which points to the importance of taking information with a grain of salt, because even if it isn’t wrong, the coverage may not be complete). However, the action of realizing that we as a group were wrong and needed to take a step back really made the entire process one of continual and captivating discovery.

The structure of this course is very unique, and it’s enjoyable not least because I think that it functions similarly to the way in which adults do when working in teams: we meet together and stay in almost constant contact, but there is a lot of work done remotely. This allows us to divide tasks and play to everyone’s strengths, which has been and will continue to be an important factor in the success of our groups. More importantly, the very work that we’re dividing is designed by us. There are expectations and scaffolding as well as knowledgeable support from mentors, but the ways in which we work (including the platforms we utilize to convey our messages, organizational and communicative structures, goals for ultimate products, schedules for task completion) are really decided by us. This also lends us some flexibility: while the work is rigorous and demanding, it is because we want it to be, and if there are periods in our very busy lives when we need to back off from this work a little bit, we can do that. Because the five of us on my social action team are all from different schools, these periods usually come at different times, which means that there aren’t usually periods where we’re all swamped at once.

We all came into this retreat feeling a little low on energy; we haven’t been as productive and communicative as we usually are, which I think can be attributed in great part to scheduling conflicts and consequently less consistent communication. However, ten minutes into our in-person meeting Saturday, we were brainstorming at an incredible speed and moving forward extremely efficiently, accomplishing so much in a day that we’ve completely outlined the editing phase of our documentary (which is a very complex task), and we enjoyed doing it. I feel re-energized and I know what needs to be done in the coming weeks, and I also feel much closer to my team. I think we still have some work to do in defining some specific and actionable outcomes to present in our main documentary, but that’s less because our focus is vague and more because a lot of the issues we’re looking at are systematic.

I think that the most important step in this work, and what has made it so important to me, is that I utterly believe in the cause we’re pursuing and I have a very good, trusting relationship with the other members of my social action team. People can gain the most from this course if they have a strong sense of altruism but also the desire to let curiosity drive the work as much an idea influenced by experience. I’ve gained a lot from the resources the instructors provide about ways to frame messages and think about problems and interact with people with different views, and anyone who is willing to have an open mind can have a similar experience, though one entirely their own.

Clara Lew-Smith

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