8th Grade Retreat: Transition to Adulthood

Leave a comment

Success is liking yourself, liking what you do,

and liking how you do it.

–Maya Angelou

We had the privilege of spending 3 ½ days with the 8thgrade class from the local school to help them gain the skills they need to succeed in high school. Finishing high school can be a challenge for many young people. For students in this area, it is an almost insurmountable challenge: only 15% will finish high school due to cultural stresses, peer pressure, and lack of perceived usefulness of a diploma.


Fearless (giggly) Guys


Brave (talkative) Girls

Each day of the retreat, we focused on a different part of the above quote. We used a variety of outdoors activities, art projects, large group discussions, and small group discovery projects to help students actively engage with each day’s focus.

Mr E teaching outdoors

Group Discussions…indoors and out

Day one helped students define who THEY are as individuals. There is a high priority on group settings in Navajo culture: time is spent with close friends and family and identity is found in relationship with those people. Little emphasis is put on the individual in any setting.


Making “This is ME” posters

We did target shooting with no target identified and had the students run a race with no marked finish line. This helped them to understand it is hard to “win” if you don’t know what you are shooting for. They also experienced first hand that merely following what others were doing wasn’t an indicator of success.


Target Shooting…

target spears

…with pool-noodle “spears”

They decided on a personal definition of “success.” They identified their strengths and their personality types. They worked to figure out what gives meaning to their lives and what makes each one of them unique in their world. They learned about cultural differences, as we stressed that we were NOT asking them to give up their Navajo culture but were challenging them to become proficient in both Navajo and Anglo cultures. Finally, they began to identify a personal vision of what they want their lives to look like 10 years from now: housing, transportation, family, hobbies, etc.

comfy couches

…lots of writing about individual ideas in Student Portfolios

Day Two started with a timed obstacle course. First, the “resources” they needed were hidden and they had to go on a search to find the items they needed to complete each task: water guns, pool-noodle “spears,” a jump rope, a basketball, and more. When they re-ran the obstacle course with all resources right beside the task locations, they finished the race in less than half the time it took for the first attempt. This introduced the students to the daily theme of defining what they want in life, and identifying what resources they need to get there.

obstacle course run

Running to get to the next “task” in the Obstacle Course

obstacle course water guns

Water guns are useful for more than “tasks” in the Obstacle Course!

A main focus of Day Two was setting a realistic budget for their personal lifestyle choices. Some students had modest wants, needing $20-25 per hour to meet their vision. Other students wanted to live in large cities, drive fancy cars, and spend time traveling for pleasure. They were shocked to find out they would need $50-60 per hour to pay for their chosen lifestyles! This project was followed by identifying what types of jobs might meet these financial goals, including a look at what level of schooling would be required to get those jobs. Rather than “preaching” at them, this discovery-based project helped students come to their own conclusions about what they really want out of life.

setting budgets

Setting Individual Budgets for their Ideal Lifestyles

Day Three helped students identify what they needed to do to live the life they envisioned. We introduced them to more jobs than they were originally aware of. We looked at how to make good decisions, how to avoid making excuses, and how to take responsibility for your own decisions and actions. We finished with some practical tips on how to quiet fears and overcome obstacles.

closing program

The closing program reminded students that, although they must make individual choices, they are not alone in facing challenges.

Finally, on Day Four the students wrote a resume, gathered information for job applications, and completed a mock-interview with Mr. Emmelhainz. After returning to the school, they made a presentation about the retreat to the 7thgraders. They also showed their portfolios to the school principal and other adults.

job interview

Mock Job Interview with Mr. E — can you hear the students’ knees knocking?!


Reporting back to adults at school…

The week was not, of course, all work. There was free time to explore the rocks, play on the playground, and hang out listening to music.

rock play

Playing on the rock wall at the back of the Lybrook property

video games

Video gaming was popular

We also had a campfire one evening, complete with S’mores.


Campfire with s’mores…yum!

The following night, we had Game Night. Randy treated them to the junk food they had been craving all week. Students played poker, wii, and watched a movie. Staying in a “dorm” was a novel experience for most of the students, something we hadn’t thought about in advance, but good practice for those planning to stay in dorms for high school.

junk food

Junk Food “heaven” 🙂

poker night

Game Night included a competitive round of Poker

All-in-all this was an excellent experience for everyone involved. Hopefully the students are better prepared to make choices about their futures, not just follow the crowd into oblivion. It also helped us build closer relationships with many of the students which should make it easier to keep connection with them as they move out of this area for their high school years. We hope to be able to spend mentoring-time with many of them on a weekly basis as they transition to ninth grade.

 Go confidently in the direction of your dreams;

Live the life you have imagined!


Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Leave a comment

Today I want to take time to ponder Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech.

If you haven’t read through the entire speech recently, Read It Here or Watch It Here

Living here in Navajoland, we realize how much these people need the same freedoms and respect that the African-Americans did in Martin Luther King’s time. They face many of the same struggles. Read my description of how this famous speech applies to our Navajo friends HERE

Take a few minutes to read an excellent updating of this speech as it applies to America today…written by one of my favorite author/bloggers: Read It Here

May you dream big dreams today. And may you take a few moments to ponder how you can reach out and help others finally experience their dreams of basic freedoms…

Prayers for Protection? …check

Leave a comment

While praying together a few days ago, one of our co-workers prayed that God would put “a hedge of protection” around each one of us. I must confess that, at the time, I felt like that prayer was somewhat a waste of breath. Of course God is protecting us, I thought.

Then, just a few hours later, I learned just how wrong I was. That prayer for protection was a very important prayer…

Much later that same night, we had a knock at the door. Our dog went crazy, barking and growling more viciously than I have heard before. Since I was already reading in bed, Randy locked the dog in the room with me and answered the door. Then…silence.

A few minutes later, Randy poked his head in to ask if we had anything to keep a fellow warm. Turns out a neighbor’s son had been beat up in a fight and was asking for a ride to a safer place. Randy wrapped Dwayne up in a blanket and set out in the truck.

At the time, I was both irritated that we were being imposed on so late at night, and happy that we could be of help. Sadly, getting beat up in a feud in not uncommon in this area.

Randy finally returned, and woke me up to tell me the story. He had certainly needed God’s “hedge of protection” on THIS night! Although the main highway we usually drive on has been dry and clear for a number of days, the dirt roads were covered with glare ice. Randy said it was like trying to drive on an ice rink (withOUT a zamboni). At one point, the truck slid straight into a ditch. Fortunately, Randy was able to keep moving and slide back on to the road. After that he crept along in low gear.

Then, once he finally dropped our neighbor off to another relative’s house, Randy realized they had made a number of turns on the maze of back roads to get where they were. Now he had to find his way safely home, creeping along glare ice on a pitch-black night, with no guide and no GPS.

Needless to say, by the time he got home and told me of the night’s adventures, BOTH of us were relieved that God had protected him. Randy was able to sleep in his own bed that night, safe and warm, not stranded off some back road in the frigid cold.

Next time our co-worker prays for protection? My thought will be …check…that important task is now covered. Thanks, Tim, for remembering to pray for such necessary help…