Future of Life Skills retreat uncertain

Buchanan: ‘The Life Skills retreat is a very defined set of activities’

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Although the third and final Life Skills senior retreat, scheduled for April 10-13, has been canceled, the future of the retreat in coming years is unclear.

With school days lost from the November SoCal wildfires in combination with Thanksgiving break, the team of teachers that work to coordinate the retreats began to work to find a spot for the second retreat.

Principal Kevin Buchanan explained that the second retreat, held at Angeles Crest Christian Camp, did not fully meet the school’s standards: communication was difficult at times, with “runners” needing to be sent out in order to relay information from one place to another. Additionally, Angeles Crest was unavailable for a third retreat.

“The Life Skills retreat is a very defined set of activities with a very defined set of outcomes,” Buchanan said.

Such facilities include housing, a conference room, recreation areas, decent food and more. The location of the retreat also has to be close to the school in the case of any emergencies.

In order to hold a Life Skills Retreat, there must be multiple teachers present, as well as a retreat director and a group of former Oak Park students who come back to run smaller group sessions. Each of these participants adds certain elements to the retreat in order to have the desired effect on students.

“Every activity of the retreat is very tightly choreographed, every day has an itinerary. It’s almost like a script, if you will. A number of students have come in and asked, ‘Why didn’t you do the third retreat?’ It’s because the retreat isn’t just a field trip,” counselor Randy McLelland said.

The absence of Dr. Jeff Appell, the former director and founder of the Life Skills retreat at OPHS and former psychology teacher who now works as Moorpark High School’s assistant principal, has made things more difficult for teachers who work to coordinate the retreat, according to McLelland.

Appell’s license in clinical psychology was an aid to the retreat, according to McLelland. Appell had the clinical counseling training that would be needed to deal with any issues that may occur.

“The director kind of keeps everything together, schedules it all and assigns all the different roles,” McLelland said. “It was a huge loss to have both [Appell] and Ms. Pettit leaving at the same time.”

On May 7, junior Luka Sarac wrote a petition on Change.org to “bring back Mr. Eagle, [the] Life Skills Retreat, Powderpuff, and Water Assassins.” The petition, having gathered roughly 1,000 signatures within the first day, urges readers to “sign [the] petition to bring all these great events back to Oak Park for the class of 2020 and beyond!”

In a video announcement to students, Buchanan explained that the high school is working to provide a retreat experience.

“Since the departure of the two most critical staff members including our director who ran the retreat for close to 20 years and then our location burnt down, we tried to keep the Life Skills retreat alive this year and we’re hopeful that it would continue for you guys,” Buchanan said. “I am meeting with a number of outside companies who plan student retreats to design and tailor a new retreat for you. I have always supported the retreat and understand how much it means to you. I will also work with our staff who have helped with past Life Skills retreats to come up with a quality and affordable alternative.”

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