Three times each year, my calendar has appointments at places like Boondocks, Apex Center, Morning Cartoons at the Lyric, the Denver Zoo, and the Science Museum. And for each of those 20 or so hours, my “meetings” are centered around epic laser tag battles, Top Chef competitions, and meals highlighted by fistfuls of Hot Cheetos and copious amounts of Kool-Aid.
House retreats are an opportunity to reconnect after break, strengthen meaningful bonds with both my colleagues and our students, and spend some time focusing on the culture of Pinon House. To me, those days represent a new beginning.
If you’re unfamiliar with the structure of our on-campus housing, students and staff at Eagle Rock are members of one of the six houses: Pinon, Ponderosa, Juniper, Aspen, Spruce or Lodgepole. Michael Soguero, our director of professional development, reminds us: “Houses were conceived as a smaller unit within the school to form an identity around, to encourage camaraderie and team membership in a positive way.”
In other words, if we concentrate on building a positive community and culture within the houses, then those positive efforts should filter back into the larger Eagle Rock community. House retreats were created with the inspiration of being a smaller, more manageable group in which to work on community and culture building within the houses.
Here’s a Fun Fact: Back in the day, Eagle Rock existed without house retreats? The first week consisted of schoolwide community building, until former Eagle Rock Math Instructional Specialist Jason Cushner proposed a change. Now, there are 2.5 days each trimester set aside for staff and students to work on relationships, have difficult conversations, build community, develop house culture, have a lot of fun and share delicious food. It’s 2.5 days — before homework is assigned, notebooks need to be graded and the business of Eagle Rock truly kicks in — for us to come together and work on our house cultures.
Every house retreat is unique to the specific houses. In Pinon, we certainly have our traditions. In the fall trimester you can find us practicing Ultimate Frisbee, getting to know our newest Public Allies fellows, and enjoying the grill mastery of Jon Anderson (Eagle Rock’s human performance instructional specialist) and Michael Soguero. In the winter trimester retreat, we’re often running a Top Chef contest with a guest judge.
And since intramural sports are an integral part of our community, our floor hockey team was reminded that in the last 11 years of play, Pinon has only lost a handful of games, so no pressure people!
And while the activities and meals vary from house retreat to house retreat, one thing remains constant: We always have a house meeting to elect house leaders and intramural captains, discuss various topics ranging of importance to the group, and revisit our house’s mission statement.
In Pinon, each retreat is different by design. Because we welcome new Public Allies fellows in the fall, we intentionally set aside a significant portion of time for people to get to know one another. Pinon Top Chef was developed through the philosophy that to build a team, there must be a project around which people work together. Movie nights are a way to build community and deepen relationships. As Cesar Chavez once said, “If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him. The people who give you their food give you their heart.”
As you can see, there are many ways to come together as a house and each house has its own special activities. Through Tuesday house dinners, Wednesday advisories, epic matches on the intramural field, and Friday night movies, Pinon House works together to put a meal on the table, set and accomplish goals, work as a high functioning team, and laugh, cry and be terrified together, all the while building relationships and community that last far beyond our mountainside campus.
That’s why, of all the activities designed around houses, these retreats remain my favorite. There’s a renewed excitement at the beginning of the trimester, along with a sense of purpose. We’ve just spent a month or so apart visiting friends or family, developing classes, working on projects around campus and in our neighborhoods, and refilling our proverbial cup. It’s a great time to reconnect with one another and spend time working on culture, relationships and community. My waistline may not appreciate house retreats, but when the grind of the trimester begins to wear on me, I always find myself returning to the memories and relationships I forged during those 2.5 days.
Time and time again.
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About The Author: Anastacia Galloway is a professional development associate at the Eagle Rock School and Professional Development Center in Estes Park, Colo., where she works with schools and organizations across the country to reengage youth in their own education. Learn more about Galloway on her ‘Meet The Team‘ writeup.