First ever eighth-grade retreat prepares students for high school
Borrowing from “A Christmas Carol,” students from area elementary schools experienced a little from the past, present and future of their education in order to change them for the better. Fifteen schools sent their students to the first ever eighth grade retreat sponsored by the diocesan Department of Catholic Schools.
The students had the opportunity to meet and make friends with the kids they may share classes with in high school. They also learned a little about what to expect next fall.
Denise York, youth minister at Immaculate Conception Parish in East Aurora, emceed the all-day session on April 21 at the former Our Lady of the Sacred Heart School in Orchard Park.
After a series of ice breakers, select students read from the Gospel of John telling the parable of the Loaves and Fishes.
“Today we gather as the classes of 2023, and we invite you to think of your own loaves and fishes that are the memories that you made at your school,” said York. After recalling the highlights of elementary school, soap bubbles were released as a symbol of those memories rising to God as a prayer of thanks.
Bishop Michael W. Fisher celebrated Mass for the students. He encouraged the students to reflect on their unique gifts.
“Everyone here is different in one way or another. You have a lot of things in common. Some of you might be good in math, some of you might be a great artist, wonderful musician, maybe you’re real good with people and helping people understand one another,” he said. “These are all wonderful gifts that sometimes we don’t know that we have until we’ve had any opportunity to grow a little bit in our life which you’ve been doing over these years at school and will continue to do that as you move forward into the future. You’ll be reflecting on how will I use my gifts to be more holy? How am I going to use my gifts to help society to be good?”
The Lord is guiding you, he told them.
“Look at what He did with those little pieces of fish and bread. He turned that into a magnificent expression of God’s love and generosity for us,” the bishop concluded. “Never be afraid to ask the Lord for His help.”
After a series of team building exercises that involved blindfolds, balloons and Jeopardy, keynote speaker Doug Buczak, director of Development and Alumni Relations at St. Mary High School, helped prepare the students for their future in high school. He brought students from St. Mary’s and Cardinal O’Hara to describe the high school experience.
“I know all the open houses you’ve gone to, all the visits and shadow days, all of the stuff that a lot of us Catholic high schools do for you to get to know you, to inform you and your parents, sometimes that happens on the showroom floor. But, then you go to school in a few months, whether it’s at a Catholic school or a public school, we want you to be prepared,” Buczak said.
Avery, a freshman at St. Mary’s in Lancaster, found all her friends ate at a different period than her, so she had no one familiar to sit with during lunch.
“I feel becoming a part of things like sports and clubs helped, because you know more people,” she said. “Even if you aren’t necessarily friends with them, you’ll be more comfortable going up to them and asking them for things. I ended up sitting with people I played sports with.”
“You’ve got to pull on the courage,” Buczak explained. “You can’t have any fear of going up and ‘Hey, can I sit here.’ And they’ll let you do it. Everyone is in the same boat those first couple days of school.”
Taylor, a sophomore at St. Mary’s, was nervous trying out for soccer at St. Mary’s High School.
“When I got there, everybody else was in the same boat as I was. So, I went through it and it turned out to be very fun and welcoming,” she said.
Buczak encouraged students to go after what they want. “Maybe you haven’t had a chance to use that in grammar school, but now is the time to reach for the next rung on the ladder,” he said.
As a last piece of advice, Buczak told the students to be their own self advocate and speak up for themselves.
“You got a lot of great tools that are going to serve you well in the future. At the end of the day, you have to look yourself in the mirror and know what’s right and do what’s right,” he said.
At the close of the event, Savannah Sutton, from OLV School felt confident about starting high school.
“It was a great experience to learn and meet new people,” she said, pointing to the guest speakers as a highlight. “I feel like that really helped because, we’re not there yet, so we don’t know how it’s going to be.”
Sutton plans on attending Mount St. Mary’s Academy in Kenmore in the fall.
Listen to Michael Mroziak reporting.