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A Retreat From Trouble

Schools: Freshmen at Glendale's Hoover High, which has had problems with violence, attend a camp that seeks to foster a sense of campus community.

March 05, 2001|MASSIE RITSCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Her message helped. One of the girls walked up to the microphone as camp closed and apologized.

Not every moment was so heavy. There was plenty of giggling and hugging, loads of joking and karaoke.

But there were emotional moments. At one retreat, Alvia Invencion, 14, was the first to cry. She had witnessed the after-school fight that sparked the incident on the bus and she knew one of the participants in a fight on campus. She knew before the fight that her friend had planned to settle some scores that afternoon but did nothing to stop her.

"I didn't take her seriously," Alvia said. "Maybe if I just listened."

Tears slid down her cheeks. She sniffled and shook. More words came out, but they stopped making sense. Someone handed her a tissue.

The next day, Alvia used colored pencils and a flowerlike pattern to draw her mandala, like the Buddhist monks who work for days creating an elaborate design from colored sand and then sweep it up and toss the sand in a river. Maxwell and Quintanar have used the exercise hundreds of times with teenagers. The mandalas tell them about the kids and sometimes alert them to problems.

"I'm very lost, sensitive, hurt, and afraid," one freshman wrote on the back of her mandala, "but I believe there is hope . . . somewhere. The little white heart [in the center of a solid black circle] is my little ray of hope."

Maxwell told the students: "If you have a question--a big question, like, 'Should I have sex?'--look at your mandala and see if it fits. This is you according to you."

Student Relations Expected to Improve

The camp motivated Alvia to sign up for some activities at Hoover, she said. She is thinking about the club for Filipinos, and a few others. "I don't want to just join my own race," she said.

With nearly all of the ninth grade attending the camps, relations among students at school will improve, Alvia predicted.

"I know that Hoover will do better," she said. "I just know."

"Bring It Back to Hoover" was one of the slogans drilled into the freshmen during camp. What good is it if they learn to control their anger, work as a team and study harder if they apply those skills only in the mountains?

But the students learned at camp that pride and fear are powerful forces. They can make you snap at someone for looking at you wrong.

On the bumpy return to Glendale, after two nights in the chilly woods, there was too much fatigue for fighting. At the back of one bus, two girls who had argued on the way to the mountains were napping on each other's shoulders.

Another student asked on an evaluation of the retreat, "Will this camp make a change back in Hoover?"

Three weeks later, some students say they have noticed a difference: The freshmen are talking more and fighting less.

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