Thursday, May 08, 2008

How to Take 60 7th Graders Camping and Live to Tell About It - Part III

After the storms the night before, Saturday dawned clear and sunny.

The adults heaved exhausted sighs of relief. When the camp staff showed up that morning we heard that some tornadoes did touch down in our town, which caused some concern, until we found out later that they hit in the south part of the county, meaning that all of our families and homes were okay. In the meantimes the kids did whip out their cell phones and wandered around until they got a signal so they could call home and let their folks know they were okay. That in itself was kind of amusing...they'd walk around looking at their phone, screech to a stop, yell, "I've got bars!" and dial before they lost their signal.

Although the weather was wonderful we still were seeing the after-effects of the storms which caused yet another change in plan. Last year the kids had the best time doing the stream study where they got to wade in the stream with nets, catching all sorts of critters, look at fish, splash each other and generally have a ball. I was with the first group that got into the vans and drove to the stream only to discover a truism - three inches of rain can make a stream really dangerous.

Our guide, Erin, had on her hip waders and attempted to get a few feet into the stream while we stood on the bank and looked on. Not good. Even a foot from shore the current was too strong for her to get much footing. Last thing we needed was a kid getting knocked down and swept away, so there wasn't going to be a stream study this year.

What to do? Go to a pond of course.

So off we went to a pond, where the kids had a great time catching salamanders, tadpoles, water scorpions and all sorts of goodies. They were happy with that which is good. Sometimes I think this generation doesn't know how to have fun unless it's digital, so it was refreshing to see them get worked up over a salamander.

After the pond study the group I was in got to do what was clearly the most anticipated activity of the entire weekend - the canoing. I had heard the kids talking about it as soon as we gave them the tentative schedule and they could hardly wait. We didn't do this last year (out of fear, to be honest), but Mrs. Bunny and I figured we had a pretty good crop of kids, and that they could handle it. It was clearly the highlight of the trip for most of these kids. In fact, the big concern with the storms wasn't so much that we might have a tornado, but that we'd cancel the canoe activity.

The canoe instructors were actually two of our own. Mrs. Eagle has years of scouting experience behind her as she and Mr. Eagle did Boy Scouts with their three sons and it wasn't unusual for their family to go up to Montana for hiking and canoe trips. The other instructor was Mr. Math Dude, a very cool eighth grade math teacher who we convinced to come along with us. He also had canoe and scouting experience.

For the record, we have only one male teacher in the entire 7th grade, whereas there are six in the 8th grade. We needed males badly to help chaperon the kids and convinced three of the 8th grade teachers to come with us. We figured it would give them a good look at their future. Of course, that could backfire, but all in all, these guys were troopers.

The kids were just bouncing with excitement as very few of them had ever been in a canoe. We got them (and us) all decked in out life vests, gave them their paddles, spent some time instructing them in steering, and safety and off we went. The idea was to stay close to the shoreline, if possible, as the wind could still move them pretty far out into the lake. In addition, there was a little inlet with a beaver dam we wanted to show the kids.

One thing I learned is that when canoing with kids, you want to be behind them so you can see where they are. They tend to have steering issues and if you aren't careful it ends up like bumper cars on a lake. They aren't the most coordinated bunch and they tend to zig zag a lot, but if you're behind them at least you can avoid most of the danger. And you get to laugh at them as you get to see what a bunch of silly goobers they are.

Our group did pretty well - we only had one canoe tip over and the girls thought it was the funniest thing they'd ever done although they did end up soaking wet. The kids had an absolute blast. They were ready for lunch and a break by the time we took them out, went around the lake a bit, and got them back in. (Mrs. Eagle estimates that she and Mr. Math Dude probably spent six solid hours of paddling that day - they were pretty worn out and wind burned by the end of it.)

Another group, later that day, had a bit more of an amusing story to tell. It seems like two of our girls were doing pretty good until they got going a bit too fast and rammed into shore. It swamped the canoe, and over they went. Mrs. Eagle and Mr. Math Dude got over to assist them, got them back into their canoe, and it tipped again. Okay, this wasn't working. So, Mrs. Eagle took one of them, and Mr. Math Dude took another, and they were going to get them back to shore to dry them off. Only the girl that Mr. Math Dude took managed, somehow, to swamp that canoe and dump the both of them. The fact that she's a star basketball player and softball player made it even more amusing as one would have thought she would be coordinated enough to manage a canoe. Mr. Math Dude was livid (and his cell phone was pretty wet - when asked why he took it out on the lake with him, he responded, "well, I didn't plan on getting wet!"). Poor Tippy Girl is now living in fear that she'll get him for Math next year and he'll fail her simply because she managed to dump him in the lake.

As an aside, the cell phone is now working, Mr. Math Dude is getting teased for his swim, and Tippy Girl is still hoping she gets someone else for math. The fact that Mr. Social Studies had a picture of a swamped canoe on his PowerPoint on Monday morning was a source of much amusement. Tippy Girl is taking is all in stride because, as I told her, "we wouldn't tease you if we didn't love you so much.".

Later that evening we had our traditional bonfire and s'more event which was another huge highlight for these kids. It still just amazes me how many children never have had a s'more before and how few of them have been around a campfire. They loved them. We eventually ran out of chocolate and graham crackers but ended up roasting a lot more marshmallows until we ran out of those as well. The kids ran, played tag, jumped up and down and generally acted silly and goofy. I had a bunch of them that had heard about most ghost stories from the year before so I spent some time telling ghost stories for them.

That evening, despite the sugar fix the s'mores provided, they were pretty worn out. The teachers were as well. A number of us were feeling colds coming on (myself included) and were dragging our tail feathers. It was all I could do to finish telling ghost stories as my throat was giving me fits. We all crashed, after a very long, very fun, and very eventful day.

And Tippy Girl most likely had dreams of a very mad Math teacher.


nbosch said...

What a wonderful opportunity---makes me wish I taught in one of those "Walden Pond" schools where kids learn outdoors (and I'm not even an outdoorsy person). Those kids will have those memories for a lifetime.

NYC Educator said...

You are very, very brave. Much braver than I'll ever be.

Mimi said...

I can't even IMAGINE canoeing with my have balls, friend.

Ruth said...

This trip sounds like so much fun. And I agree, you're very brave. :-)