Third Life Skills retreat canceled

Appell: ‘there's a question mark for where the program is going and what will happen’


Photo courtesy of Danielle Gould

Seniors Marcus Jasso and Justin Jordan enjoy snow during the second Life Skills Retreat at Angeles Crest Christian Camp during recreation time

By Olivia Buccieri, Oak Park High School

For the first time since former Life Skills teacher Dr. Jeff Appell created the Life Skills retreat, some seniors will not have the opportunity to attend.

It was Feb. 26 when Principal Kevin Buchanan sent out an email to parents that their students who signed up to attend the third Life Skills retreat for April 10–13 will no longer have that opportunity.s

“There are several factors influencing the cancellation of the retreat,” Buchanan said. “There’s going to be a hole in the understanding of why this happened, unless you know all the details.”

Buchanan said that not all the pieces for the third Life Skills retreat are securely in place for the program to continue this year.

“They run a very specific type of program that is carefully programmed and orchestrated to have a particular set of outcomes,” Buchanan said. “Most of the issues at this point are logistic.”

Logistics involved in running the retreat can range from making sure students have chaperones on buses to securing a mental health professional on site to abide by common legalities.

“You need to make sure that you have a lot of boxes checked,” Appell said. “Those boxes include all of the legalities, parental consent and involvement, teacher support and a clear goal and path that you are reaching with the retreat itself. You also have to have leaders that understand exactly what needs to be done and you need to have preparation time to do that.”

According to both Buchanan and Appell, the second Life Skills retreat struggled to meet all logistical concerns.

“As a retreatant, you may not realize all the problems that can arise … The experience can be compromised for students when you have administrative issues or school board issues, that can bring the program down,” Appell said.

Previously, with a PhD in psychology and a license in multisystemic therapy, Appell ran 52 retreats and directed alongside former co-Athletic Director Ann Pettit before transitioning the program to current director and math teacher Bri Hazlewood. The transition took 1.5 years of training, while Hazlewood shadowed Appell on multiple retreats.

“I think the mix of qualities that I had in terms of dealing with people, building relationships and having strong boundaries is what made me successful,” Appell said.

After Gindling Hilltop Camp in Malibu burned down from the Woolsey Fire in Nov. 2018, Appell and Hazlewood worked together to pinpoint Angeles Crest Christian Camp in Angeles National Forest as the location for the second Life Skills retreat. As of now, Hazlewood has been put on administrative leave.

However, the future of the retreat as a whole is unknown.

“I have not heard that it’s canceled forever, but I haven’t heard that it’s going to be continuing in future years. Right now, there’s a question mark for where the program is going and what will happen,” Appell said.

Seniors impacted by the cancellation include Oak Park Independent School students, international students and those who were unable to go on an earlier retreat.

Senior Thomas Vincent was planning on going on the second retreat, but switched to the third due to the date change caused by the Woolsey Fire.

“I was told by a few teachers and a bunch of students that it’s an important life experience,” Vincent said. “I’m disappointed and bummed I can’t go, it’s sad.”

According to senior Emily Audras, she believes the administration or students themselves should “find another way to creatively combat this issue.” She would have attended the third retreat.

“A lot of people have been looking forward to this for four years. Life Skills is supposed to be an amazing opportunity for students to bond and learn about themselves,” Audras said. “I know there’s a lot of outside, political activity that we don’t know as students — behind the scenes. It’s really disappointing and frustrating.”

Hailing from Austria, Vienna, as a current international student and senior, Emma Weiss said her host brother, senior Brett Solny, went on the second Life Skills retreat, which got her excited to go on the third retreat.

“It’s something so unique and special, that I wanted to experience it for myself,” Weiss said.

This story was originally published on The Oak Park Talon on February 28, 2019.