Saturday, April 28, 2007

Of Algae, S'Mores, Sunburns and Screaming 7th Graders, Part V

On our last morning of camp, Coach decided to forgo the early morning exercise session for the boys and instead gave them another life lesson - on how to vacuum.

One of the rules at camp was that everyone had to help clean up and that included vacuuming the dining area after each meal. The kids weren't wild about this, but most of them figured out that the quicker they got it done the quicker they could go outside and mess around. Some of the boys, however, were overhead saying that they couldn't help because they didn't know how to vacuum.

Coach took care of that. He marched the boys to the dining hall, gave them each a section of floor, did a brief run through on how to operate a vacuum, and then they each had to complete their section before they could go outside. Another life lesson learned.

Each of our three groups had one more session to do before we packed up, cleaned the dorms, and left to go home. Our group finished the second part of the Challenge Course.

Challenge Courses go by different names, and different organizations operate them, but the basic idea is to have a group of people think outside the box to solve problems as a group. One of the goals of this trip was to develop some leadership skills in our students and this course was one of the tools we used to do this.

And it worked.

The group that I was with had a variety of different kids - boys and girls of different races, different backgrounds, different academic ability, and different economic levels. The only thing they really have in common is the fact that they have the same five teachers for seventh grade. Watching this team of twelve kids work together to solve a problem was fascinating. We saw a different side of these kids and they saw a different side of each other and of themselves.

I won't go into detail on what the course activities were (it would give away some of the solutions to the problems if I did), but suffice it to say that they were fun and challenging. The best part for Mrs. Language and I was listening to them talk with each other to solve the problems. They listened, made suggestions, tossed out ideas, tried things, regrouped when needed. It was amazing. What was almost as amazing is what didn't happen.

They didn't argue. They didn't criticize. They didn't disregard anyone's idea as "stupid". They didn't give up. They didn't call names. They didn't tease.

They were wonderful.

Mrs. Language looked at me at one point and whispered, "this is what it's all about." I couldn't agree more.

The rest of the morning was spent packing, cleaning, and loading up the bus. The kids were tuckered out, and so were the adults. The ride home was significantly quieter than the ride up. In fact, from our position in the front of the bus, we could look back and see 32 heads slumped against the seats, mouths open, eyes closed.

One of our girls roused herself and saw me looking back. "Mrs. Bluebird," she yelled over the noise, "can you tell us another ghost story?"

"Maybe some other time when it isn't so loud," I hollered back. She smiled, closed her eyes, and went to sleep.

We got back to school to find several parents already waiting for us. A few thanked us for giving them a weekend off, others thanked us for giving their kids the chance to do something new. Many of the kids gave us big hugs (and a handshake to Mr. Social Studies) and told us thank you.

It was an awesome experience for all of us. And we were somewhat sad to see it end.


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