By Holly Newsome, Assistant Director of Marketing & Communications
High School students enjoyed a break from their school routine — and technology — with faculty and staff chaperones on grade-level retreats in Kentucky and Tennessee from Wednesday, August 30 to Friday, September 1.
Grades 9-12 participated in a myriad of fun, phone-free activities at camps in Kentucky and Tennessee, including bonfires, sports, conversation circles, dance parties, ropes courses, scavenger hunts, and team races. Watching the daily sunrise, sunset, and moonrise was a favorite pastime at this year’s retreats, too. A USN High School tradition that has evolved to put approximately 410 students outdoors for three days, retreats give students intentional time to build connections, have conversations, and create memories with their peers. Additionally, students are challenged to consider class identity, develop class goals, and establish class ways. Retreats encourage individual and collaborative reflection among students.
High School Dean of Student Life and English Teacher Justin Karpinos served as a retreat leader and helped plan the ninth grade adventure to a beautiful camp facility near a lake in South Central Kentucky alongside Nicole R. Jules, Assistant Head of High School for Student Affairs and Psychology Teacher.
“The ninth grade retreat is one of the first places we see the identity of the class begin to take shape, and this year that was especially so,” said Karpinos. “This group of new High School students rose to meet challenges and support each other, and they did it all with a spirit of inclusion that makes me excited to see how they will dive into our High School community. They brought a ton of energy and enthusiasm for each other and represented themselves and their school with aplomb.”
“My ninth grade retreat opened so many doors for me as a new, incoming freshman that I had not been shown before,” said Elisabeth Crane ’27. “I enjoyed meeting lots of new people, getting closer with the people I already knew, and being in the beautiful outdoors for a few days. I loved this year’s retreat, and I cannot wait for the next one.”
Caden Carrabba ’27 added, “The retreat was just flat-out fun – some of the best three days.”
Similarly, Director of College Counseling Aaron Fulk helped plan the 12th grade adventure to a scenic camp facility near the Cherokee National Forest in East Tennessee alongside Retreat Leader Matthew Haber ’98, History Teacher and Dean of 11th and 12th Grades.
“The senior retreat focused on cultivating leadership among the class. We hope the class had an opportunity to spend time with everyone as they have nine months together left at USN,” said Fulk. “They started to think about modeling the culture and habits for younger classes and about curating their own legacy as a class. The Class of 2024 has remarkable empathy for one another, and they continue to demonstrate an inimitable kindness towards one another."
"I had a lot of fun at the Senior Retreat. The view from camp was beautiful, and I had a great time hanging out with friends and getting to know classmates better,” said Drew Brackett ’24.
Jessica Penilton ’24 added, “This was my best high school retreat thus far. I made new connections and reminisced on the past 13 years with people I cherish.”
Seniors ended their retreat experience with a special memory: the Class of 2024 induction ceremony. Haber called names, and Director Amani Reed presented students with special key chains. The thought behind the special gift is like a keychain holds a lot of keys, a senior has a lot of responsibilities. For more than two decades, the Director has given members of the graduating class a USN-engraved key chain at the start of their senior year.
“The induction ceremony invites seniors to think about several things: their place as leaders and role models of the student community, their power to set a tone for the entire school year, and their opportunity to build a lasting legacy as the Class of 2024,” said Haber. “The fact that the ritual is so reminiscent of the commencement ceremony underscores for them – maybe for the first time –that this really will be their last year at USN. I think they come away from it with a renewed sense of the gravity of this moment in their lives, both individually and collectively.”
Faculty encourage all High School students to hold on to the camaraderie built and lessons learned from the retreats as they go about their school year.
"As a new student last year, retreats completely shaped my relationships and mindset for the year. I was able to create lasting friendships and see the entire grade bond as a class. It was the first time I distinctly remember USN feeling like home” said Kailyn Womer ’24. “This year was a continuation of that — I strengthened the connections I already had while making new ones, and I know our class became more tight knit. Our retreat was the perfect way to immerse ourselves into senior year together as we get ready for a new chapter, supporting each other every step of the way."