At the start of every school year, Ross School students participate in retreats that offer them a chance to learn about the curriculum they will study in the year ahead, welcome newcomers to their class, and forge stronger bonds with one another.
On the first day of classes, grades 6 through 8 had their first community meeting and were issued lockers, slippers, and uniforms for Wellness. By grade, they met to discuss this year's plans for service projects. At the end of the day, the students were divided into "Constellation Teams." These multiage teams will compete for points all year long, trying to win a prize to be determined by the Middle School Student Government. Teams earn points by winning athletic competitions, performing random acts of kindness, and demonstrating academic excellence. They can lose points for not living up to the School’s Core Values. Once the rules were explained, students enjoyed some friendly competition, including Hula-Hoop and "turtle" relays. Afterward, the Parents Association provided the fixings for ice cream sundaes.
Over the next two days, each grade embarked on a different adventure. In the 6th grade, Team Leader Jon Mulhern took his students to the Morton Wildlife Refuge, where they engaged in a walking meditation. To develop an awareness of who they are as individuals, students found a safe space in the Refuge and observed nature, animals, and the sounds around them, gaining an appreciation for their placement within the world. Then they were asked to research the animals within the Refuge through drawing and interacting with them.
Next, students divided into teams and designed ancient city sandcastles on the beach. The project helped build cooperation, patience, and understanding, and was followed by students sharing their thoughts about what they thought they would encounter this upcoming year. Then, they bid their 5th grade selves adieu by writing their names in the sand and watching the ocean wash them away. Finally, they rolled down a large sand hill, starting a new year as a new person.
Seventh grade Team Leader Carol Crane took students to Cedar Point Park in East Hampton, inviting them to become acquainted with each other and immerse themselves in the beautiful natural surroundings. Some students took out kayaks and explored the local waterways, while others created art using natural objects, such as shells, stones, and twigs. They also used seines to catch (and return) some interesting sea life.
The 8th grade began their retreat by watching Paperclips, a documentary about students in Tennessee who collected six million paperclips in honor of the victims of Nazi genocide. Inspired by this project, Team Leader Mark Tompkins has asked his students over the last five years to participate in their own memorial project by collecting buttons for every casualty—military and civilian; American, Afghani, and Iraqi—who died on September 11, 2001 and in the conflicts that have followed. “We believe that the process of creating this memorial will join together those who stand for tolerance and honor those who have died in the name of pluralism,” Mark explained. The endeavor has yielded a collection of 35,000 buttons thus far, and this year’s 8th graders will actually build the button memorial. Once complete, it will go on display.
All three grades ended their retreats with an Upper School community meeting in the Great Hall on September 7. Members from each grade (6–12) reflected on their respective retreats and listened to African drumming led by teacher Ken Sacks. They also played a few friendly rounds of volleyball against faculty and staff.