Besides conventions, the student retreat is one event in the school year looked forward to by students. This is where students encounter the Lord and of course, bond with friends. With the remote setup, it is a challenge to transition from an in-person event to a virtual event. Concerns arise such as, how do we do it? How do we engage students? How do we minister to them? It seems difficult, but it can be done! Let’s take note, however that we do not wish to replicate in-person events with virtual events but instead provide a completely different experience. Different ways, same goal. Here are some of the things we did in Jesus’ Flock Academy’s virtual high school retreat.
Plan It Out!
We don’t have to deviate much from what we usually do with in-person retreats. The remote set-up has posed expectations and standards on how to do things, but really, it doesn’t have to pressure us that much! Of course, some things really can’t be done, but we can explore other activities which provide different experiences, but with the same excitement and goal in mind. We can stick with our set program and vary in other ways to adapt to the virtual set-up.
First, set the intention. What is the purpose for the retreat? What do you want to accomplish through it? This could be taken from your school’s theme for the school year or your school’s vision and mission or by looking at your students. You would know what they need now. Coming from what our students share, it was noticeable that most of them had slacked off from their motivation and drive due to the pandemic. Thus, we agreed on the theme: “Passion: Ignite. Direct. Sustain. Influence.”
We aimed to ignite once again our students’ passion for God and passion to pursue their talents & abilities. From here, once the theme had been set, the second part was to plan out what the program would be, activities & teaching needed.
It is important to consider that the dynamics in virtual and face-to-face retreats are different. Monitoring participation in a virtual set-up is different since we are in different places. Thus, it is vital that programs are kept short but meaningful.
The 70/30 principle is applied where 30% of the time is set for teaching and 70% for student engagement. Activities should also be diverse. In our retreat, we scheduled three days. Totally, no PACE work; just the retreat. Only one teaching event was set per day, and it was timed to be short. Other activities varied from games – some of them were even inspired from Tik Tok, small group discussions which were shared in the main room through a group picture, presentations were shown through videos and a quiz game using Kahoot!.
All teaching and activities were streamlined showcasing students’ passions. We even had a talent show and a passion day (fashion day where students are encouraged to wear an attire to present their passion and match it with a creative zoom background). If you’ve noticed, the program & activities were the same with the face-to-face retreat set-up, the only change was the manner of doing it. Which leads me to the third important aspect to plan out – the online platform to be used. Two most popular platforms used are Zoom & Google Meet. While Zoom has fees to maximize its use, we went for it since it is an all-hands room platform that had options for break out rooms which were used for small group discussions. Teachers were also able to pray and minister individually to students through this feature. Polls, chat box, and raising of hands were used to facilitate questions. Whiteboard, screen-share, and sound were used to highlight the speaker. They were even used for games and presentations.
During our talent show, all participants were requested to turn off their cameras and only those who were to present were opened and highlighted through the spotlight. Reaction buttons were used to get real-time feedback from students and to keep them engaged. It is vital for facilitators not just to be familiar with the features of the platform but to master themn and maximize their use as the smooth flow of the program relies heavily on it.
Make this event memorable and meaningful for the students. Kick off the momentum by getting them excited about it. Posters and ‘save the date’ invitations are good ways to make them look forward to the retreat. You may want to consider that just like in business, you should know your target audience. Since we want to interest young people, we may opt to use fonts, graphics, and images that would catch the attention of Gen Z! Although it’s a school activity, we want to stray from the formal set-up a little bit and make this event fun and refreshing for them – something they would be thrilled about and share even on their social media accounts.
Next, promote, promote, promote!!! Keep students’ excitement and curiosity by posting the posters on your virtual classroom and opening conversations about it on the comments section or through sharing in class. Lastly, complete your virtual retreat kit by making a digital workbook and zoom backgrounds!! This provides a distinct feel for the students and promotes an “outside world” atmosphere even while at home.
Go For It!
Now, although planning and preparation is half of the work done, proper implementation is still key for a successful virtual retreat. This will be effective when teachers and students work together. Teachers, or facilitators of the retreat, it is good to consider making the tone of the retreat “light and fun”. We want the retreat to be a refreshing time for students outside and removed from PACE work.
Help from students is also important. So, leaders and assistant leaders may be assigned for groupings. Make sure they are properly oriented before the start of the program and feedback may be asked at the end. Feedback will help you assess the day and make room for suggestions that may be incorporated the next day.
Another thing, in going through your activities, make sure there are rewards! We know this encourages engagement from students. G-cash, food deliveries, and online store vouchers are what students go for now and is sure tested to make them work for winning points! You may also opt for group scores where winners accumulate points, and the best team is awarded at the end of the retreat.
So, plan it out, prepare digitally, and just go for it! Comments from our virtual retreat were very encouraging. Students shared how the teaching/lessons inspired them to pursue God and even their other passions. Group activities and sharing time was one area we were hesitant during the planning part since virtual dynamics is really very different, but it turned out good! New friendships were built, even transfer students who were not given a chance to personally meet their classmates felt welcomed, and friendships continued even after the retreat. This virtual set-up has surely brought us setbacks but has pushed us as well to continue despite them and explore other areas and opportunities. Though our ways differ, our vision stays the same!