Wildwood alumni will tell you that the friendships they forged at Wildwood last a lifetime.
While those close connections are often the accumulation of years of shared experiences (All School Meetings, classes, athletics, and performing arts, to name a few), nothing can bring a group of adolescents together quite like working together to put up a tent and sleeping under the stars.
For a handful of days in early October, Wildwood’s 9th grade explored the El Capitan Canyon in Santa Barbara as part of the annual 9th grade outdoor education retreat, while middle school students (6th-8th grade) embarked on their own journey to the foothills of Simi Valley. Both retreats included a variety of activities such as hiking, ropes course elements, and community building activities.
"Whether it’s navigating a kayak down a river, nursing a farm of baby goats, or simply telling stories around a campfire, every aspect of our outdoor education program is designed to broaden their understanding of the natural world, solidify new and old friendships, and push students a bit out of their comfort zone," said Dr. Banks-Hunt, director of upper school.
Students created a home away from home with their classmates, a welcome adventure after the past few years where such closeness was limited.
"It signals the return of community,” Dr. Banks-Hunt noted. “The best part is that this trip bookends the upper school experience with a return visit at the end of their 12th grade year."
For Charlotte W. ‘26, the ability to disconnect from daily life was another key benefit of the retreat.
"On the first night, we hiked down to the beach and just had a chance to sit with our thoughts and the ocean," Charlotte said. "That was my favorite part of the trip not only because it was so relaxing, but because I felt myself connect with nature and let go of the stress of school. While connecting with classmates was the goal of the retreat, I also think it was a great opportunity for students to recharge and take some deep breaths before returning to school and life."
At Wildwood’s middle and upper school, retreats and outdoor education are an integral part of our Advisory and Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) programs. Key aspects of Wildwood’s curriculum, such as the Habits of Mind and Heart, are weaved into retreat activities to show their applicability outside of the classroom.
"The Habit of Connection really resonated with students," Dr. Banks-Hunt said. "Students were able to see patterns and ways in which the retreat was bringing them together—both purposely and more subtly—and identify the parallels between the social-emotional work that typically occurs in on-campus Advisory to that in their surroundings in nature."
While the retreats themselves lasted just a handful of days, Dr. Banks-Hunt is confident that the lessons learned will serve students well both during their time at Wildwood and beyond.
"Having to work with and get along with 49 other classmates is great preparation for the college experience, where they may find themselves living in a dorm with perhaps a few hundred classmates," Dr. Banks-Hunt added.
For the time being though, it’s those classmate connections that Charlotte W. '26 is most grateful for.
"I think that our grade feels more like a community and a lot more settled in," Charlotte added. "High school is a big transition and being able to have a support system of peers is crucial as we go through the next few important, and honestly scary, couple of years of life."
- Fall 2022