The ARROW Retreat, April 15-18 2013
The 2013 ARROW Retreat was a combination of 28 enthusiastic teenagers, a great story, a captivating author, a delightful artist, awesome volunteer facilitators, and a beautiful natural setting − all combining to inspire personal expression through writing and art.
What the kids said
The ARROW Retreat provided a unique book-centered program, featuring the reading of Okay for Now by Newbery Honor author Gary Schmidt, that one participant said, was “a great way to learn.” Another observed “during vacation you don’t have to lounge around watching TV for a week, you can do fun things. . .” Another simply said: “It was the best school break I’ve ever had.”
The students’ written reviews offer a consensus about how special it was to interact directly with successful, creative professionals who are passionate about what they do. The respect given to Gary Schmidt and Rebekah Raye and the many questions asked showed the youngsters were serious about getting all the insights and tips they could about the creative process. Participants said they “felt connected” to and “loved hanging out with” Gary and Rebekah, and from them they learned “a ton” of things they “wouldn’t have learned in school.”
How it all worked
Gary Schmidt began the large group sessions using personal examples to describe his writing process. He then masterfully engaged everyone in the room by giving imaginative writing prompts and calling on, and conversing with, a series of individuals. His unflappable reactions to their (sometimes startling!) ideas were often hilarious, always respectful, and clearly inspiring to everyone. There were no wrong answers, and with Gary’s guidance and expertise, everyone learned to ask the right questions to help create believable characters to inhabit their stories.
No one wanted those sessions to end. Many commented they wanted “more time with Gary!” and that they “could have listened to him all day.” Perhaps the highest compliments paid to Gary were: “He was way cooler than I thought he’d be” and “I think of him more as a teenager than an adult.” Several young people noted in their written reviews that they learned new writing techniques, which they felt would make them better writers. One parent said her daughter’s “writing really grew this week.”
Participants equally loved the time spent with Rebekah Raye in drawing and painting. Rebekah established a wonderful rapport with the whole group as she introduced herself, discussed and built on the themes presented in the book Okay for Now and showed examples of her art. The following day, after explaining the techniques and tools that would be used, she gently guided, made suggestions, and offered genuine encouragement. She made everyone feel proud of what they created: “I loved that she complimented everyone’s piece” enthused one young lady. Students saw Rebekah as “sweet,” “calm,” and one commented he felt he could “be myself around her.” Another “loved talking to her about art.” One parent reported hearing about “art instruction like they’d never experienced.”
One perceptive student expressed what we hope others felt, by noting the parallels between the process of creating a character in words and capturing an image in graphite and watercolors:
“. . .I liked how all of the things we learned would come together; like how we were supposed to suggest what the character’s personality was through dialogue, and we suggested the feathers on the bird drawings to make them more real.”
Parents were pleased to hear enthusiastic descriptions − “huge raves” about each day’s experience; a mother “heard delight” in her daughter’s voice while recounting the experience. One parent noted her daughter and a friend continued to use their notebooks to record ideas even after the Retreat. Parents also appreciated the clear organization and the “supportive, respectful and encouraging atmosphere” created by presenters, staff and volunteers. Parents also valued the chance for their children to “share with other kids with the same interests in reading and writing.”
The presentations about birding, taxidermy, and small group book discussions supported the main presentations very well, illuminating the kind of research an author or an illustrator might expect to have to do. These discussions were enjoyable and generally well-received. Comments included “loved the special guests.” While these sessions largely kept the student’s attention, clearly and predictably, Gary and Rebekah stole the show.
The facilities of Camp Beech Cliff were universally viewed as a superb “retreat-like” location, providing a modern and relaxed environment with plenty of space for the large group activities, small break out sessions and outside spaces for youthful energy to be expended on the breaks. Several of the students did ask for “more food,” and more breaks or time to be active.
Awesome Gary Schmidt, Award-winning Author
A professor of English at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., Gary is the author of 8 novels for young readers including Okay for Now; Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, which won both the Newbery and Printz Honors; The Wednesday Wars, which was a Newbery Honor book, and Trouble which is set in Maine where he is a frequent visitor. He has 6 children with his wife Anne and lives on a 150-year-old farm where he splits wood, shovels snow, plants gardens, and writes on a typewriter in an outbuilding that has a desk, lamp, woodstove and lots of books.
Amazing Rebekah Raye, Artist, Educator, Author
Rebekah is a well-known painter and sculptor of animal art, and the author and illustrator of The Very Best Bed, which won a Maine Literary Award from the Maine Publishers Alliance, and Bear-ly There. She loves animals and their relationship to people and to each other. A native of Tennessee, Rebekah now lives in East Blue Hill, Maine, and interacts daily with animals domestic and wild, which provide inspiration for her art. She also teaches workshops for adults and children.
Astounding Rich MacDonald,World-traveling Naturalist
Rich is the director of The Natural History Center in Bar Harbor. A lifelong birder, naturalist, and field biologist, he has traveled the world in search of birds, most recently visiting Antarctica. He was lead naturalist on six cruises for National Public Radio’s “A Prairie Home Companion,” and is working on a book about the birds of Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park. An avid sea kayaker, he is a registered Maine guide and lives in Bar Harbor with his wife Natalie and their daughter, Anouk.
Click on the images to see the artwork larger.