By Chris Kieffer
TUPELO – As they began the school year, a group of seniors gathered at a retreat center in Oxford and discussed their role as leaders.
This was the second year Tupelo Christian Preparatory School held a retreat for its high school students at Camp Lake Stephens near Oxford. Classes started in Tupelo on Tuesday, Aug. 5, and the school’s 25 seniors began their retreat the next day for a session on leadership.
They were joined that Thursday by the school’s 107 ninth- to 11th-graders for two more days focused on unity and team-building.
“They are really the leaders of the school,” Headmaster Brian Benscoter said of the seniors. “They set the tempo, and the other kids look up to them…We take an extra day (with them) to say we need to grasp that reality. You have to realize these other students look up to you.”
Many of that first day’s activities were intentionally designed to put those students into leadership situations, Benscoter said. That included leaving them in a room for three hours and tasking them with determining not only their class vision, but also how they planned to live it out as a community, on social media, in the hallway, in the classroom, at school events and at non-school events.
“We grew closer as a grade, and we all made a decision to unify our school more,” said Joseph Berry, 18, the senior class president.
Benscoter brought the idea for the retreat from his time leading a school in Birmingham, Alabama. When the underclassmen arrived, they held several activities and games to build unity as classes and and as a school. Jason and Melissa McAnally of Origins led worship and delivered a keynote address about the need to mend rifts with each other in order to better worship God.
The event helps set the tone for the year, Benscoter said. The school’s enrollment is currently 537, an increase of 10 students from last year.
Senior Deanna Locke, 17, said she and her classmates are building on those lessons as they try to gain the respect of the younger students.
“It is so early in the year,” she said. “Right now, it is about making those relationships, so later they will trust us and we can step up and be leaders.”