Retreat (noun)

Definition 1: a place of privacy or safety
Synonyms: refuge, asylum, harbor, shelter, sanctuary
Definition 2: an act or process of withdrawing especially from what is difficult, dangerous, or disagreeable
Synonyms: pullback, pullout, recession, retirement, withdrawal
(Source: Merriam-Webster online)

At the annual Middle School Retreat, hosted by the Maine Seacoast Mission’s Island Outreach program with support from the Island Institute, the goal of the event is to prepare outer island middle schoolers for the transition to mainland high schools; or, to achieve definition 1, rather than 2.

Transitioning into the first year of high school can be intimidating and stressful. By creating an open, safe place to discuss and ask questions about high school, we hope to better prepare and ensure that students don’t withdraw from the high school experience – no matter how new, different and challenging it may be.  

A lot of preparation and attention goes into making sure the students who attend this three-day, two-night event away from home feel the safety and comfort needed to open up and engage in the process. For some students, they may be the only middle schooler on their island and in their school, making this time especially rewarding and necessary.

While this may sound like a three-day slumber party, the activities are purposefully sequenced so that when we get to the tougher topics, like vocalizing your hopes and fears about transitioning to high school off-island, there is a level of trust and familiarity within the group. Students challenge themselves in breakout groups brainstorming with each other, and asking questions to panels of visiting high school staff and current (REAL LIVE) high school students.

This year we had 15 students attend – from Monhegan, Isle au Haut, Swan’s Island and the Cranberry Isles. Hopefully these pictures from our most recent retreat in Camden help you see for yourself which definition of “retreat” we are working towards.

Tess Beem / Island Institute

Tess Beem / Island Institute

Tess Beem/ Island Institute


Contributed by

Tess Beem