As we finish breakfast, the staff scrambles about, leaving the kids alone for a brief moment while T. heads upstairs to find out what time our final meeting with the Camp Director and Assistant Director will take place this morning. She heads upstairs, and I glance at the kids for just a moment, and I have an idea. I race up the stairs to the camp’s offices, and walk over the railing overlooking the dining hall, facing down towards the kids. I can’t resist, and break into full Facist Dictator mode (no salutes, just lots of crossed arms and chin up, nodding.) I get the goofy affirmation from the students I was seeking. T. comes out of the Director’s office. I give one last salute and I head on down with her.
In my respects, my little “Mussolini” act sort of symbolizes what the choice of this week-long outdoor school means for the kids from our school who have attended this particular camp these past two years as opposed to the camp previously used by the ancien regime previously serving as our 6th grade teachers at our school. The previous camps attended by 6th graders were at a much higher elevation, often in the San Bernardino National Forest, and did not offer the amount of activities that our current choice of camp offers. The teachers were also expected to carry the bulk of the instruction, as opposed to the camp counselors at these other sites. Quite often as well, the 6th grade teachers would go up alone, or send a surrogate, and were not necessarily in the best position to provide instruction that a trained outdoor instructor could give to the kids, much in the manner that our school’s kids received these past two years. 6th Grade Camp became something that teachers tried to avoid, particularly since the teacher who booked the camp each year had no intention of actually attending camp herself, missing out on time spent with the kids on a learning experience beyond the classroom. Suffice to say, when she retired, the end to many of her practices both in and out of the classroom went with her. As such, we have this new Outdoor School we’ve been using these past two years.
As a matter of fact, on my way home today, I stop by my wife’s school, and run into one of her teachers, who was a student teacher at my school, and therefore went to the old 6th grade camp. She is genuinely surprised at how much the event has changed since the time she left. This is not the week that she remembers from her student teaching time. I am there, as she was, with the kids, but as I noted earlier today, I am a spectator to their experiences rather than a participant. That’s a critical distinction, particularly in that I couldn’t begin to provide a quality outdoor instructional experience with my own limited knowledge. I could try, but it’s far better for these kids to have it from instructors who know their stuff in this area better than I do. Having now seen this particular program in person these past two years, first on a 5-day week and then on a 4-day, and getting to know the Camp Director as well, our time spent this morning discussing our suggestions for bettering the program–from praising the nurse to suggesting an organic farming experience in a garden setting–have more of a meaningful impact on us, as opposed to a teacher merely booking 6th grade camp, not going herself, and then being shocked when the kids aren’t necessarily taking away what you hoped they might.
As one of our school’s former principal’s might put it: is this the best thing for kids?
So as I walked down the steps from the Camp’s office towards the door, after my little show on the balcony rail, I think to myself what this past week probably meant for these kids. We’ll be back with them on Tuesday, a week closer to state testing, but with a week-long list of memories in these kids’ heads as well. It is inconvenient to be away from home, I admit, but the point of the week shouldn’t have been for the teacher’s convenience, even if the Camp tries to provide the attending teachers with amenities like the room we stayed in, internet access, and a role as an interested observer and friendly face for our students. This week is not themed for convenience, rather it’s aimed at roughing it. Certainly, the rain, the cold, and the subsequent snow was part of that very experience. It was the owls that circled at night, and the bunny that greated us every time we headed back to our cottages. Unlike my little pretend dictator, nothing of what was done this past week, was meant to be done for my benefit. It was for the greater benefit of our kids.
I doubt our old grade level predecessor ever truly understood it. Or, perhaps she once did, but stopped caring. Hearing the kids sing the “Bungalow” song” on the bus ride home, we know the week went the way it should have gone.
As a final aside to 6th grade camp, I plan on asking my students to share their own thoughts about 6th grade camp with me. I will post some of the best of those comments at some point next week after the long holiday weekend…