St. Francis Xavier students learn about faith-filled environmental protection

SUMTER — Students from St. Francis Xavier High School celebrated Earth Week with a unique retreat to the coast April 6-8.
The entire student body traveled to St. Christopher Camp and Conference Center on Seabrook Island, where they slogged through marshes, studied fish on the beach and got tangled in ropes courses.
The retreat theme was stewardship, both of the earth and the gift of one’s self to others. The retreat planners were Karlena de la Cruz, a science teacher, and Susan Lavergne, the principal, who combined real-world academics with spirituality.
Participants were guided through seminars on the ecology of sand dunes, intertidal wetlands and salt marsh ecology by the staff at St. Christopher. Despite the cold water and difficulty walking in pluff mud, the youth were able to seine the estuary by hand to study marine life.
The trip coordinators planned classroom assignments in advance to coincide with the ecology courses. Lessons included the history of the S.C. coast, environmentalist literature, graphs on tides, and animal life.
De la Cruz said that working outside the traditional classroom “imprints on students’ minds. They are more likely to remember it.”
Interspersed with the seminars were discussions of the effects humans have on the environment. Retreatants learned about protected, threatened and endangered species on the coast, such as the American alligator and loggerhead turtle.
Students then formulated plans for steps they could take to help the planet, or to end habits that are harmful to the environment. They were aided by the required reading, “It’s Easy Being Green” by Emma Sleeth.
Spirituality, both with the environment and one’s self, rounded out the retreat. David Gardner, head of the Barrier Island program, gave a presentation on “Biblical Views on Environmental Stewardship.”
Outside the structured classroom, groups of teenagers tackled the ropes courses designed to foster teamwork and problem solving.
At the end of the week, the youth were joined by local Christian band Wannabe Stephen. The lead members, Joe and Josh Burgess, led a focused retreat at the Isle of Palms Chapel.
“I liked the retreat best because it was spiritual and not defined by a class or grades,” said Meg Rolow, a junior at the school.