The 8th grade classes at ICS embark on an adventure at the beginning of every school year. Starting a new school year is an adventure for all our students no matter what grade, but the 8th grade adventure begins in a different way. They are led into the wilderness. It may sound like a strange idea to take 14-year-olds on a three day backpacking trip. But it truly is a life-changing experience. For many, this is their first exposure to life outside of the regular comforts of home; some, even their first time away from home. Three days of living out of a backpack, going without running water, cooking their own meals, sleeping outside, rappelling – this is just a brief list of experiences on the 8th Grade Wilderness Retreat. Students (and even staff members who participate…) may start out fearing the wilderness and wondering how they will ever cope with being so outside their comfort zone. However, the perspective from the beginning of the trip to the end drastically changes – and changes for the better.
Living in the wilderness without the distractions of everyday life in northern Virginia provides the perfect pathway for classmates to bond together and for fostering a greater sense of community. There is something about having devotions around a campfire and seeing the magnificence of a starry night that opens hearts to be in even greater awe of our Creator. An important aspect of an Immanuel education is equipping our students to be grounded in why they believe what they believe, so they truly can go on to live purposeful lives of learning, godliness and service. That foundation begins building in kindergarten, and the roots deepen each year. The 8th Grade Wilderness Retreat encourages the development of basic survival skills, yet the life skills learned in those three short days serve our students well for the rest of their lives.
One of the things we hope to do on our retreat this month is to sit under the stars one evening and recite Psalm 8 together, a psalm that most of our 8th grade students memorized when they were in 3rd grade. A portion of that psalm says this, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.” The Wilderness Retreat is about more than just learning to survive in the woods. It’s about discovering who we are as God’s children, and our place of honor God has given us in His great world.
As a teacher at ICS for the past two years, I have heard many stories from the Wilderness Retreat. Despite the occasional rain showers, discomforts of sleeping on the ground and increased interactions with insects — every person returns with amazing lessons of what God has taught them. I am excited to have the opportunity to join the 8th grade classes this year on the Wilderness Retreat! Along with a fantastic and energetic group of students and brave staff members, I look forward to experiencing this adventure for myself – the joys of the wilderness and to seeing what God has to show us!
Lauren Umble has been a 6th grade teacher for two years at ICS and has taken on a different role this year as Communications Coordinator, serving in the Advancement Office.