The Caswell Experience

School field trips typically include a crowded bus ride, angry chaperones and long reports to write. Leadership retreats entail long seminars and ancient guest speakers. The Caswell trip manages to leave all those elements behind, favoring laughter, friendships and activities instead– while being held on the sandy North Carolina coast.

The annual Caswell Leadership Retreat was held from Jan. 17 to 19 in Oak Island, N.C. Students, selected from a “lottery” of nominations, spent the weekend refining their leadership skills, making new friends and building unique relationships.

The beach at Fort Caswell, Oak Island, N.C. Photo by Melanie Langness.

The beach at Fort Caswell, Oak Island, N.C. Photo by Melanie Langness.

Attendees of Caswell ranged in age, grade, background and personality. The trip was a way for students to meet and bond with peers they may not have even known existed. Retreat leaders pushed for a non-judgemental, non-exclusive social experience.

“As a senior, I didn’t feel any different than I did as a sophomore– when I came last. Everybody is equal to each other [and] there’s no cliques or groups of people. Everybody is just kind of together. I made new friends!” senior Braden Mills said.

For some, Caswell served as a way to meet the students who are involved on campus, but never seem to be found in a classroom. Freshman Katie Gattis found herself with the unexpected opportunity to bond with a real-life “celebrity.”

“I was one of the only people on the bus on the way there when we stopped to eat, and Jamie [Snover] was on the bus too… she came and sat with me. It was nice to meet her off screen– it was weird seeing someone who was actually ‘real.’ When they’re on TV they don’t seem real,” Gattis said.

A committee of student leaders began preparing for the weekend months before students even knew they were nominated to attend, working to make the trip the best it could be alongside advisor Shannon Ferguson.

(From front to back: Victoria Guy, Ben Meshaw, Ashley Abernathy, Veronica McLean, Jamie Snover, Carmen Romana, Matthew Cherry, Noah Leamy, Jason McGill. Not pictured: Tre Frederick.) Photo submitted by Jamie Snover.

(From front to back: Victoria Guy, Ben Meshaw, Ashley Abernathy, Veronica McLean, Jamie Snover, Carmen Romana, Matthew Cherry, Noah Leamy, Jason McGill. Not pictured: Tre Frederick.) Photo submitted by Jamie Snover.

“For all the leaders to put Caswell together, it took us a good couple of months. We started a little before October. It took us so long because every activity we had [the students] do, we did ourselves to try it on. If it didn’t seem right to us, we didn’t do it [on the trip]. There was a lot of changing that we did,” junior Romana said.

The leaders planned a trip packed with things to keep the attending students busy and smiling, while allowing for periods of free time.

“During the day we did leadership activities. We were divided into colored groups, and with our group we went through group discussions and practiced for competitive activities. Some of those activities were the relay race, improv, court cases and song parodies. Once we were ‘released’ the students got together and played Manhunt and ‘Honey do you Love me,’” senior Dylan Parton said.

The Blue team, “Blue’s Clues,” poses to spell out “Caswell.” (From L to R: Paige Simons, Shelbey Sparrow, Kaitlyn Misinonile, Justin Denning, Hailee Clark, Victoria Guy, Scott Chesnutt, Cody Rutherford, Jowann Holder, Ben Meshaw, Mercedes Wynn-Walker, Andre Wilson, Mallory Cheek, Jacob Higgins.) Photo submitted by Shelbey Sparrow.

The Blue team, “Blue’s Clues,” poses to spell out “Caswell.” (From L to R: Paige Simons, Shelbey Sparrow, Kaitlyn Misinonile, Justin Denning, Hailee Clark, Victoria Guy, Scott Chesnutt, Cody Rutherford, Jowann Holder, Ben Meshaw, Mercedes Wynn-Walker, Andre Wilson, Mallory Cheek, Jacob Higgins.) Photo submitted by Shelbey Sparrow.

Students were able to utilize specific talents in the more competitive events, while other events demanded group members to overcome personal challenges or work together as a team. Whatever the activity, everyone aimed to make their peers laugh.

“I did the improv activity for my group with Devin Broadway. It was very nerve wracking, but once I got my nerves together it was a breeze. We were randomly given a subject to act out by the Caswell leaders, and were given 30 seconds to improvise a skit. Devin and I had to act out ‘Unexpected Places for a Grand Theft Auto Scene.’ We pretended to be at a church, and we took the offering,” junior Robert Wilson said.

Members of the purple team assemble a human pyramid. (From top to bottom: Abby Britt, Celine Greene, Carmen Romana, …., Aaron Abernathy, Chase Faircloth.) Photo submitted by Abby Britt.

Members of the purple team assemble a human pyramid. (From top to bottom: Abby Britt, Celine Greene, Carmen Romana, Aaron Abernathy, Chase Faircloth.) Photo submitted by Abby Britt.

Toward the end of the retreat, groups competed to get the most points in a “digital scavenger hunt.” Leaders handed out lists with objects or poses and corresponding point values. If every group member got into a picture with the listed object or pose, that colored team was awarded the points.

“The groups got additional points for getting a picture in the ocean– fully submerged in 40 degree water. It was cold the first time I jumped in, but the second time I jumped in I was already numb so it felt fine,” Mills said.

The “Pink Panthers” embrace before taking a chilly swim. (From L to R: Bridget Harrison, Yoselyn Salazar, Joseph Kuley, Mckenzie Jordan, Nicholas Weimer, Jamie Snover, Aaliyah Trimarchi, Dylan Parton, Lindsay Barnes, Robert Wilson, Devin Broadway, Johnathan Houston, Tre Frederick, Bryce List.) Photo submitted by Jamie Snover.

The “Pink Panthers” embrace before taking a chilly swim. (From L to R: Bridget Harrison, Yoselyn Salazar, Joseph Kuley, Mckenzie Jordan, Nicholas Weimer, Jamie Snover, Aaliyah Trimarchi, Dylan Parton, Lindsay Barnes, Robert Wilson, Devin Broadway, Johnathan Houston, Tre Frederick, Bryce List.) Photo submitted by Jamie Snover.

The retreat is designed to subtly teach students lessons and skills in a seemingly carefree environment. Designating tasks like cooking and cleaning the houses were meant to show teams how to put others first– occasionally, tension arose as food supplies dwindled and messy rooms were left untouched.

“At Caswell, so each team could do their part, they had to cook food for everyone at different times during the trip. My group cooked lunch on Sunday. It sucked putting everyone else first before me. I was hungry!” sophomore Noah Liles said.

The entertaining events and activities were fun for students, but Caswell leaders agreed that the group discussions had a greater impact on attendees. Within the colored “teams,” leaders hosted open discussion about current events, social ideas, and individual struggles.

“During Caswell we wanted the other students to open up so first we tried simple discussions like small mistakes we’ve made, and how they’ve affected us and how we now look at it to change what we do. Once we got people closer together, we tried going into deeper discussions that may or may not lead students to open up– we don’t force it upon them, but there are times when students have really opened up. It can be that really silent kid… you realize they’ve gone through a lot of things,” Romana said.

Students are nominated by teachers for the Caswell lottery, and are invited to attend the following year’s retreat in late fall. The trip is open to all grades and welcomes anyone with a good attitude and desire to grow.

“I would recommend this to other students. I made lots of friends and it helped me come out of my shell. It’s a great school retreat to learn what type of leader you are,” Parton said.

(L-R from top: Dylan Hales, Ben Meshaw, Kyle Pfister, Noah Parton, Bryson Hall. Victoria Guy, Chase Wagner, Mallory Cheek, Brandon Brasslett, Chase Faircloth, Aaron Abernathy, Celine Greene. Amber Sweigart, Kaitlyn Luke, Megan Britt, Katie Bowden, Dylan Parton, Jada Blizzard, Brittany Coley, Noah Liles, Dalton Mundy, Korey Miller, Tony Mack, Aaliyah Trimarchi. Mikia Jacobs, Jason McGill, Jowann Holder.) Photo by Melanie Langness.

(L-R from top: Dylan Hales, Ben Meshaw, Kyle Pfister, Noah Parton, Bryson Hall. Victoria Guy, Chase Wagner, Mallory Cheek, Brandon Brasslett, Chase Faircloth, Aaron Abernathy, Celine Greene. Amber Sweigart, Kaitlyn Luke, Megan Britt, Katie Bowden, Dylan Parton, Jada Blizzard, Brittany Coley, Noah Liles, Dalton Mundy, Korey Miller, Tony Mack, Aaliyah Trimarchi. Mikia Jacobs, Jason McGill, Jowann Holder.) Photo by Melanie Langness.