On Thursday-Friday, February 10-11, 2011, our 8th grade (200 strong) embarked on the fifth annual Leadership Retreat. This yearly event provides time and training for the advisement groups to make great leaps and bounds on their leadership projects. During the 8th grade year, student-advisement teams address a global issue or social-justice concern with a locally enacted project. The projects take the form of direct action, indirect support, and/or advocacy.
To give you a small sample of the projects, here are a few of the current ideas and implementations:
- Lifestraws (safe drinking water)
- Refugee housing in Atlanta area
- Gift baskets for hospitalized children
At the retreat, advisement groups rotate through a number of sessions. Some sessions are based in outdoor/adventure education as a means for students to develop deeper team skills and understanding of complex leadership traits. Other sessions are specific to the advancements of the particular projects. Below are two resources: 1) a 20-minute video showing clips of the various sessions, and 2) a document explaining the sessions and a schedule of retreat events. Additionally, a search for #20minwms on Twitter (during Feb. 10-11) would provide a micro-blogging window into the trip.
Our fabulous students, superb advisors, and critical support staff (Deans Little and Breithaupt, Grade Chairs Cutbirth and McMillan, Ms. Schoen from the Glenn Institute, and Ms. Brown and Mr. McMahan from Discovery) made the trip a great success!
At this year’s retreat, we achieved an added bonus. One of the retreat sessions involved the showing of Darius Goes West, an amazing documentary film about a group of friends who travel across the United States to raise awareness about Duchenne Muscular Distrophy (DMD) and ADA wheelchair access. Thanks to the tireless work of Leslie Ann Little, Darius Weems and Barbara Smalley (mother of Logan Smalley – watch his TEDxAtlanta RE:SOLVE talk here) joined us at Simpsonwood to inspire our students and faculty about how to make a difference.
On Thursday night, Ms. Smalley sent the following e-mail to Ms. Little:
Hi Leslie Ann,
In a word, WOW! All of us agreed that visiting your “crew” tonight was amazing. Your students were so enthusiastic and so attentive. Darius loved the standing ovation and all the great comments and questions. Thanks so much for having us, and let’s all keep in touch.
I’m including some DGW updates in this email for you to share with your faculty and students…
2005: Trip taken
2006: Movie edited by Logan while a senior in college
2007: Film festival circuit, where DGW won 28 film festival awards (woo-hoo!)
2008-09: Darius and crew spent an entire year back on the road visiting schools and hosting screenings all over the country.
2010-11: Still going strong. Emphasis is on our school program now. Darius does a lot of skypes with classes.
During the year-long road trip (in April 2009), Darius came down with what we thought was a bad cold/cough. During a short break in the trip, he went home and to the doctor, then was admitted to the hospital and diagnosed with congestive heart failure. It scared us all, because with DMD, the heart and lungs are the last to go. The doctors in Athens know nothing about DMD and told Darius, “You’ll be with the angels soon,” then told his mom to call Hospice. We took him to a specialist in Atlanta, who put him on heart meds. Darius started watching his diet and lost 70 pounds. He is in great health (all things considering) now, and we expect him to be around for a while.
I’m attaching an MP3 file of one of his newest raps called “On a Mission.” Please feel free to share with everyone.
You can also check out/download another of his newer raps, called “Don’t Stop Believing,” by clicking here. This rap has a video that goes with it that shows all the places Darius and the crew visited during their year on the road.
* In May of 2009, Darius won a prestigious “Do Something” Award and was able to travel to NYC to accept the award. During the ceremony, he got a big surprise: MTV announced that they would show Darius Goes West on MTV2 and mtvU…and that happened on Darius’ 20th birthday, which was September 27 2009. A representative of MTV went as far as to apologize to Logan and Darius in an interview with CNN (how amazing is that?). Here’s a link to that interview. Note that all of this came about after four years of Darius and the crew stumping for their cause. Lesson learned: Never give up!
* MTV also donated $10,000 to Charley’s Fund in D’s honor. Yay!
* As part of the “Do Something” Award, Darius’ picture and story are now on the back of 40 million Doritos bags. Tell everyone at Westminster to see if they can find one of these in their local supermarket. They are the 99 cent bags.
* Darius and Logan were on the Ellen DeGeneres Show, where she surprised them (plus the entire DGW crew) with a cruise. Check out the video of that awesome announcement by clicking here.
* People always ask Logan and Darius if they’re going to make a sequel to DGW. Nope! But they have been posting videos since the trip. Check them out on YouTube’s DGW page by going here.
How you can get involved/help our cause:
* Spread the word by sharing Darius’ story with others. One good way to do this is by hosting a screening, and we have an online screening kit to help you with that.
* Help us raise more funds for research by purchasing DGW merchandise (Goslabi shirts, Lamborghini orange DGW wristbands, DGW DVDs, and bumper stickers). If you use the attached form, you get a $5 discount on Goslabi shirts plus free shipping if everything is sent to one address. Another way to help us raise money for research is to take the Goslabi Challenge...if you dare! You can sign up as an individual or as a team. Or, get creative with your own fund raising ideas. We love it when students do that!
* Friend Darius on Facebook so you can keep up with what Big Daddy and his crew are up to. Darius has three accounts, and two are full, so look for Darius O. Weems. Also join our “Darius Goes West” Facebook group.
* Come to Athens this summer to help us celebrate our 7th Annual Darius Goes West Day(s) the weekend of July 22-23. And if anyone has any connections to a great rapper/rap group that might want to play at our concert that weekend, holler!
Thanks again for having us. Westminster rocks!
Know about it!
135 Pine Tops Court
Athens, GA 30606
(706) 613-7237 (Voice)
(706) 613-5109 (Fax)
From another parent email reply:
Again, thank you for sharing. The video really helps fill in the blanks and further explains what [my son] told me about the trip.
He seemed to really enjoy it.
From another parent e-mail reply:
Thanks, Bo!!!! Sounds like (and looked like from the videos) a really fantastic retreat!!
From a parent e-mail reply:
Loved the video.
[My son] could not stop talking about Darius!
Nice job on the human ladder.
Thank you for this experiential learning opportunity for our kids.