Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Seventy-one Seventh Graders and a Weekend in the Woods

The Great Camping Field Trip was this past weekend.

I haven't written earlier because, well, I was exhausted. Not to mention backed up on finalizing grades, grading homework assignments, and getting my ducks in a row for our retention and promotion meetings with The Principal this week.

Did I mention I was exhausted?

This was the third year that we took a number of our students to a local National Forest educational center and spent the weekend doing things like canoeing, hiking, going through low ropes challenge courses, studying pond creatures and basically having a grand ol' time with a bunch of seventh graders. It's something we started a few years ago because we realized that so many of our kids weren't experiencing nature and had never had a s'more, been on a lake, or even been out in the woods.

I might add that many of our fellow teachers look at us as if we're freaking insane to do this every year. However, we do have a number of eighth grade teachers who got drafted to help last year (because they happen to be male and we're always short on male chaperones to ride herd on our boys) and they insisted on coming back because it's so much fun. I guess it depends on your personality on whether or not you're willing to give up a weekend of your own time to do something like this for our kids.

I just wish that Mother Nature would cooperate a bit better. The first year was in April and the weather couldn't have been more perfect. The last two years we've gone in May and a tornado or a severe thunderstorm has hit our town on both Fridays of our trip. This year it was so bad that the kids back at school were hunkered down in the halls for a tornado warning that went on past dismissal and they ended up holding the kids for over an hour. Meanwhile, we're off on our field trip where it's raining like heck but, thankfully, no tornado warnings for us even though we were only 45 minutes away.

However. It rained like mad on Friday afternoon, so we had to eat our sack lunch from school in the dining hall about two hours before we were supposed to be there. It stopped, fortunately, and we were able to get started on our afternoon activities without too much problem. Yeah, it was wet, and muddy, and slippery, and a bit drizzly, but considering that it wasn't pouring, we were happy. We did have to cut the night hike a bit short due to rumbles of thunder and some lightning, and by the time the kids were in their dorms it was raining pretty hard. Around three in the morning the storm was raging and I opened the door to the counselor's room where I was residing with Miss Reading and it was something else out there over the lake - lightning flashing, loud rumbles of thunder, and rain, rain, rain. I went back to sleep and didn't wake up for a few hours.

And when I did, I discovered water on our floor.

This was not good. I shook Miss Reading awake and we took our flashlights and discovered that our room was flooded with about a quarter of inch of water. It went out of our room, into the lobby of the dorm, and then into the area where the girls were. Fortunately, it didn't get into their sleeping area, but stopped right before the bathroom. Great.

I took my shower, tossed on my clothes, doused myself in bug spray (gotta keep those ticks away) and then headed out in the rain up to the dining hall where I knew I'd find Mrs. Bunny and her coffee cup.

"Our room is flooded," I said as I sucked down my first of many cups of coffee.

"Oh good gracious," she said. "How bad?"

It wasn't bad at all, truth be told. I only lost about a dozen decks of cards, and aside from the inconvenience, it wasn't much to get excited about. We told the cooks who had showed up and were getting breakfast ready and they made calls and the maintenance guy showed up later that morning and shop-vac'ed the whole place, along with the unoccupied dorm next to us that also flooded. We found out later that in 20 years, they've never seen that happen. Considering that anywhere from three to five inches of rain fell that night, and that some roads washed out, we were lucky.

However, by the time breakfast was over, the skies had cleared, the sun was out and we had a gorgeous day. We kept them busy (and muddy) all day - we did challenge courses, canoeing, a pond study, orienteering. I might add, that one of the highlights of this trip is the food. They do it up right, and the amount of food they feed our kids is astounding. The kids are amazed - bacon and eggs and pancakes and biscuits and all sorts of good stuff for breakfast, hamburgers and fries and brownies for lunch, and chicken and green beans and salad, and cake for supper, and a snack of cookies for later in the evening. The food is filling, and tasty and for many of our kids (those who are on free and reduced lunch for example) it's more food than they've eaten in a long time. They loved it! They talk about it for days afterward, and I've even had kids from our first year come back and mention how cool that trip was and "wasn't the food awesome?"

Some observations about this year's group of campers...

They couldn't handle the challenge courses as well as the kids in previous years. The group of fifteen that I spent the weekend with was considered by many to be one of the better groups (we simply numbered the kids off and mixed them all up). Even so, they didn't get very far on the challenge courses because they argued, wouldn't take the time to make a plan, wouldn't listen to each other, had too many kids who wanted to be leader, and generally acted like the pains in the butt they've been in the classroom all year. They'd get halfway through a challenge and would find out that it was hard, and then want to start over. As the counselor said, unfortunately in life, unlike video games, there is no reset button. It drove them crazy that they had to solve their way out of their dilemma and that they couldn't just restart.

This group was not the most coordinated group around. Mrs. Eagle, who has years of Scouting under her belt, helped do the canoeing along with Mr. Algebra, and they said that, once again, my group was the best at canoeing. We didn't tip anyone, we didn't have any splashing fights, and they, somewhat, followed directions. That being said, we still had four kids that refused to go with a fellow student (lack of trust there) and insisted on going with one of the teachers, and about three canoes ended up nearly getting stuck in the trees near the bank (the lake was HIGH), and couldn't seem to get the idea of how to steer the things - perhaps because they didn't listen and pay attention when they were being taught how to do this. However, the other groups all had at least one (and one group had four) tips, so at least my kids stayed dry. I was pretty proud of them at this point.

This group of kids are the most physically unfit, whiny, lazy bunch of kids I've ever seen. They need to get off their butts and away from their cell phones and video games. Case in point...we had to hike a mile (down a paved road) to the pond to do the pond study, and then walk back. I'll be 47 next month, and I'm a tad overweight, and I have a bad knee. I kicked their butt when it came to walking or hiking anywhere. Granted, I go to the gym and walk a lot plus I lift weights (so the canoeing was no big deal) but jeepers, a mile walk down a road and you would have thought we'd made them hike up Mt. Everest. The only ones who didn't complain were kids that were already involved in scouting. However, the bulk of them were going on about tired they were and how sore their feet were. We heard this all weekend. I was tired (due to lack of sleep) but my feet, back, shoulders, and everything else was fine. I was also smart and brought lots and lots of socks to keep my feet dry.

I love orienteering with the right bunch of kids. This time I got the right bunch. I had four boys, one little tiny girl, and we had a blast. They listened, helped each other, and we did great. This was our last activity and by then they'd finally learned to work together and help each other out. The terrain was rugged, but I'd managed to get a group of non-whiners for this one and we were all over the place, up and down ridges, through brush, across creeks, you name it. They did a great job of stopping every so often to check their bearings, adjust, and move on. I was so proud of them.

Bonfires rock. S'mores are awesome. And Mrs. Chicken can scare the bejeebers out of them with ghost stories about a old farmhouse that stood near our school playing field. Of course, it helps when the hoot owls and coyotes start howling nearby.

The best part of the weekend, however, isn't necessarily the kids. It's a chance to spend some time with your fellow teachers and just have fun. Most of us were up before sunrise and were drinking coffee and watching the sun rise down on the boat dock. It was the only quiet, kid-free time we had. The kids, fortunately, were so beat that they'd sleep until we'd wake them up so we had a few hours of grown up time before we had to get them ready for breakfast. It was wonderful. Drinking coffee, yabbering, laughing, and generally having fun with people that you work with but don't ever get time to just hang out with during the school day. I love those cups of coffee and companionship down on that lake. It's the best part of the weekend for the teachers.

So, we didn't lose a kid. We had some scrapes, and lots of mud, but overall it was a success. The kids loved it, we loved it, and we'll probably do it again.

If for no other reason than to have a chance to drink coffee at sunrise by the lake.

And to give our kids a chance at what Mother Nature has to offer.


Chanman said...

I grew up in the woods of Northern California, and spent my childhood hiking all over the Siskiyou Mountains. Even though I live in Sacramento, I cart my kids up to Grandma and Grandpa's house as often as I can. I hope to instill the same love of the outdoors that I have, and so far, it seems to be working. This summer, my son and I are going on a Father/Son overnight camping trip (just the two of us). We are going to swim in the creek, throw rocks in the water, build a campfire, and do some hiking. I can't wait, and neither can he! I'll do the same thing with my daughter when she gets a little older.

Tracey said...

Our teacher took us on a hiking and camping trip in our 7th grade year too and I'll always remember it. Good for you!

Sarah said...

Sounds like they had a great time!!

HappyChyck said...

I think you are insane, too, but...this is obviously a great experience for all involved. Thanks for sharing!

Mrs. T said...

I love that you do this every year, and even more, I love reading what you've written about it! Such a great experience for them! Have you read the book "The Last Kid in the Woods" (? can't remember the exact title)- all about nature deprived kids? Sounds like what you are doing is a step in the right direction.