ACG Tauranga’s annual Senior Retreat develops students’ leadership capabilities and enhances school culture – and this year’s camp was no exception.
The three-day device-free retreat is a calendar highlight for Year 12 and 13 students and was held last month at The Village at Finlay Park, Cambridge. Featuring everything from shooting, axe throwing and bush first aid to stand-up paddleboarding and glowworm spotting, it is undoubtedly action-packed. But it’s the bonds forged between the group that provides the most powerful and far-reaching impact.
“The big win is always about the relationships,” explains Year 13 Tutor, Teacher and Assistant Senior Dean, Leana Buxton.
“Students get to connect with other members of their cohort that they wouldn’t necessarily forge friendships with, and then they bring these new relationships back to school. The retreat is pivotal in strengthening the bonds between students themselves and also between students and teachers. The effect this has on setting up a really positive year is immeasurable.”
Head Girl Alex Brodie couldn’t agree more.
“Having a Senior Retreat is key to starting the year on a good note. With exams quickly approaching for us Seniors, the retreat allows us to have a great time with our friends before we are deeply immersed in our studies,” she confirms.
“The retreat gave me the chance to connect with some of my peers whom I hadn’t gotten to know yet. This will set a really good tone for the year because we now all feel very connected as a community.”
Now in its sixth year, the retreat focuses primarily on leadership, with students taking on responsibility for organising much of the food (The Village is self-contained), camp chores, and activities. Year 10 to 13 Dean Jackie Webb says the learnings these experiences deliver are priceless.
“It’s the sort of leadership retreat that’s usually only available to top-tier leadership students, but because of our size, ACG Tauranga has the privilege of providing the opportunity to all our senior students,” Jackie explains.
“The Year 13s are heavily involved in organising and setting up job rosters and activity groups. They are learning so many skills, such as what makes a good group and how to encourage people to participate. This learning is then implemented throughout the year in their roles as leaders.
“During the three days at camp, we get to see who they are beyond school – a lovely glimpse into who they are within the home environment! We talk to them about being kind to each other and showing understanding when others feel stressed or tired. The retreat provides authenticity, teaching students what leadership actually looks like in real life, not just in theory.”
For both Jackie and Leana, one of the many highlights of this year’s retreat was seeing students step out of their comfort zones. With a private swimming pool onsite as well as ‘the rocket’ and a hydro slide, there were plenty of opportunities for students to push themselves.
Adds Leana, “Some of the students were initially a little reluctant about coming to camp, but once they got here, they gave things a go and did things they would never have dreamed of. That was the most amazing part. Senior Retreat gives students opportunities to go beyond their comfort zone in a safe environment. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, fewer of these outside-the-classroom opportunities have been available to students, so that made this year’s retreat even more special.”
According to Head Boy Kobe Williams, these experiences will not only shape the year ahead, but they’ll also provide skills – and memories – for life.
“Going to the retreat was a great opportunity to develop abilities we couldn’t learn inside the classroom. It allows so many students to be pushed to their limits and gives every student a sense of responsibility, whether that’s because they’re cooking dinner for everyone or they’re cleaning the toilets, it all needs to be done,” he says.
Kobe’s top highlight?
“After the action-packed days, coming back to camp, sitting on the grass with a big bowl of spaghetti and talking with my mates! It was so nice to be able to relax and hang out with everyone outside of school on what was for some of us, our last school camp ever.”