Class VIII Retreat to Grace Farms

OCTOBER 07, 2022

It is long known that when Class VIII steps onto the sixth floor at the start of the year, they officially take their place as the leaders of the Middle School. And yet, just because they are the eldest students on the floor, does that automatically make them leaders?

With this new position in the Middle School comes a newfound sense of responsibility that can best be summarized in the Class VIII theme: Leadership as Legacy. For Associate Head of Middle School Martha St. Jean, this means asking, “‘How can I leave things better than before?’ Legacy is about thinking beyond myself, beyond the barriers of time or beyond the here and now. It’s about the next generation of Nightingale students and the purposeful actions members of our community are taking today to ensure the sustainability of our liberal arts education model and the success of our students. It is our connection to the future, which enables us to take the right actions today, this implication allows us to design lives that lead—and lead well.”

To explore this theme, Class VIII traveled to Grace Farms, a retreat space in Connecticut, to examine the concept of leadership and work together in creating a definition of leadership that upholds Nightingale's mission of inspiring girls to go beyond barriers. Working in small groups, students were asked to reflect on such questions as “how do you define leadership,” “what are the characteristics of a leader,” and “why is it important to understand leadership.” They also dissected the mission statements from well-known brands to understand the intention and impact that a mission statement can have. Ultimately, Class VIII will work together to create a single mission statement for their class that connects to the legacy they want to leave as the Class of 2027.

The second part of their day included free time to explore the grounds of Grace Farms—hiking, playing soccer, and working in the art studio. They also participated in Grace Farms’ signature program: The River Retreat. In small groups, students wound their way through the River building—a structure of glass, concrete, steel, and wood connected by one single long roof that gives the appearance of floating above the ground as it twists and turns. On this journey, students were asked at various points by Grace Farms teachers to consider “what is the shape of a flourishing life?”

For Ms. St. Jean, interacting with that question in this way was a powerful learning experience. “Rivers are living legacies of what it means to have impact and influence within the ecosystem where they exist. Under the right conditions they continuously flow, and provide nourishment to surrounding areas. On the other hand, rivers can also dry out, or wreak havoc and destruction — impacting surrounding areas. Leadership, like a river, is complicated, and has its nuances. Recognizing that leadership—like a river—is dynamic, allows us to deeply think about the ways in which we ‘move’ in community. Leadership can be intentional, and acting with intention allows us to build lives that are flourishing, which impact and influence the lives of others for the common good.”

Upon her return, Ali W. ’27 reflected, “I thought this trip to Grace Farms was a great experience to hear my classmates' thoughts on the meaning of leadership and to ask myself deep questions that I wouldn't come across on my own. I loved learning about why the structure of the River building was built the way it was and I also found the time we had to explore different activities really fun and engaging.”