Overnight Environmental Camp: Take it or leave it?

Sep 24, 2017

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Susan Hellard

We just returned from our biggest field trip of the year. Our 5th grade overnight environmental 4H trip. This trip never seems to go as planned, I must complete most of this paperwork over the summer because it requires our Board of Education's approval since it is an overnight/out of district trip, it requires more parent volunteers than any other trip we take, and it costs $40; which for some of our families is a huge expense.

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As I sit here reflecting on the trip, exhausted myself, I ask the rhetorical question, "Why do I keep fighting so hard to keep this trip?" Here is the reality of what I see. In the entire 5th grade (113 students), we had eight students who chose to stay behind simply because, "they didn't want to go," or their parents didn't want them to attend. When this happens, we try to encourage the parent to come with us on the trip, but this year, we were unsuccessful in making that happen, so these kids missed out on the entire two days of outdoor classroom experiences and teambuilding exercises. This unwillingness to just TRY something new and different goes against the growth mindset that we try so tirelessly to teach our students. A few of our students are not grateful to the parent volunteers, who make this trip possible. That really bothers me as a person and a teacher. Simple solution; don't do the paperwork next year and let the trip fall through the cracks. I could just not reschedule the trip. We could just take a day trip like everyone else! That would also eliminate the overnight medications that must be administered while we are at camp. The decision seems simple, right?

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It does, except it isn't. Every year we allow kids to go that we know should be left behind because of their behavior, but it is those students who need to go the most. Those students have never been canoeing, or on a nature walk to identify animal tracks, and I am certain they have never been surrounded by enough darkness to view stars so bright that they can understand what constellations are. 4H camp opens a whole new world of wonder for so many of my students and that is why I fight for this trip every year. I see kids who have never been interested in anything come alive with such animation during their Pond Study session. I see students who have never been able to work well with others or communicate with their peers learn how to when they are canoeing for the first time ever.

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Am I tired today? Absolutely. But my heart is so full as I sit here and reflect on all the effort our students put forth Thursday and Friday at camp. They brought their growth mindset attitudes with them and that was evident. Sure, we had some issues, of course I got frustrated, but at the end of the day the experiences gained by most of our students far outweighs any of the smaller events that took place. This is our camp, our biggest trip of the year, for some of our kids it will be the biggest trip of their life. As their teacher, it is my job to fight for this trip. If I don't, if my team doesn't who will? These students may not know it, but they rely on us to fight for these things for them, and I accept the challenge.

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