One of the best ways to quickly establish and build trust with a group, is to participate in a shared experience. Before Covid-19 hit, our plan had been to have an in-person retreat for our continuation high school students. Not to be deterred, we put together a meaningful virtual retreat to kick-off the 2021 school year.

Funded by a generous grant from the Play Equity Fund, our students and Instructor-Mentors were led through a digital retreat experience. The goals for the retreat were to:

  1. Create a safe space for youth to engage in their classroom environment
  2. Develop a positive group dynamic between youth and their peers / teachers 
  3. Build trust to help Youth bond to adults and peers
  4. Develop communication skills for Youth
  5. Develop social-emotional skills for youth

The facilitators took the students through various levels of activities starting with getting to know you and ending with opportunities for true vulnerability. Many youth started the retreat by just showing a black Zoom screen and communicating only through chat. By the end they were on video discussing issues with the facilitators and Sharefest Instructor-Mentors in real time. Youth reflected on their day-to-day challenges, individual and family traumas, and their personal hopes and dreams. The Sharefest team was prepared and able to provide trauma informed support as youth became more and more vulnerable.

Our dedicated team of Instructor-Mentors shared their reflections on the retreat experience.

“The retreat’s focus was to get students to open up and speak without judgement. This allowed students to feel comfortable with conversations that were conducted on the retreat dates. The hosts were very good at having students participate and greeted everyone as they joined the class. Students were grateful to have conversations that made the gears grind. – Pedro

“The first activities were fun, but the following activities were a lot more socioemotional based which allowed for the class to sustain a safe space for vulnerability and self-expression. Additionally, energy was increased in the classroom, leading to higher participation. After one particular session, students reflected on potential career paths and/or goals. The significance of this particular reflection was that students expressed high confidence and drive to achieve their goals. After the retreat was over, students shared comments such as, ‘I liked being able to share things that have been on my mind’ and ‘It felt good to talk about things I normally don’t talk to anyone about.’” – Luis

“The retreat facilitators did a great job connecting with the students on their level and talking about things the students would be interested in. They did a tremendous job reminding students that they are there to talk as peers and it was a safe space.  They did a great job making the students feel comfortable and really worked to develop their leadership and the feeling of community through their different activities. Kendra

Our plan is to provide more opportunities for experiences like this so students can continue to grow and develop their socioemotional skills and build a trusted network of peers and adults. We are grateful to the Play Equity Fund for making this experience possible for our youth and look forward to continuing to watch our youth transform their futures.