Students act as counselors on middle school camping trip

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Adam Schoelz

A group of seventh graders take a walk through the woods on their trip to Camp Rising Sun.
October is a time of beauty in the natural world. Temperatures and leaves are falling, and trees are turning radiantly red, yellow and orange. Against this backdrop several RBHS seniors are spending their time teaching younger middle school students about nature.
The camp, an effort on the part of district science coordinator, takes middle school students to Camp Clover Point and Camp Rising Sun in Lake of the Ozarks State Park for a chance to educate and entertain them. RBHS seniors accompany the middle school students as counselors in shifts, an experience senior Duyen Tran, who went last week, said was a first for her.
“The camp was introduced to me by my Honors Anatomy teacher, Mrs. [Melissa] Wessel,” Tran said. “And I decided to go because I thought it would be fun. I’ve never camped before and I found out it would count towards A+ [tutoring] hours and toward my ‘Stretch Yourself’ project in Honors Anatomy.”
RBHS science teacher Jamie McSparin said the trip was the brainchild of district head, Mike Szydlowski, who brought the project from his previous position in St. Louis. Funded by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and the Missouri Department of Conservation as well as CPS, McSparin said the program comes at no cost to seventh graders. The program used to use parent as chaperones, but McSparin said finding adults who could take three days off of work was nigh impossible. With the program in peril, McSparin said Szydlowski decided to use high-schoolers.
We were kind of in danger of losing the program until Mr. Szydlowski came up with the idea to have high-schoolers come earn A+ hours, earn NHS hours, and be the cabin leaders for the camp,” McSparin said. “As the years have gone on we’ve gotten more and more participation. So I think this year only seven to nine percent [of middle school students] didn’t go, which in previous years it was 20 to 30 percent. So the program has been taking off.”
Tran said the opportunity to work with the students, all seventh grade girls from Smithton Middle School, was both enlightening and tiring. Though the camp activities were definitely more oriented towards a practical appearance, she said her girls insisted on getting up early.
“Some girls woke up at five to shower and do their hair and makeup. By 6:15 they were ready and breakfast was at eight, not to mention we were fishing and hiking that day,” Tran said. “I really like the idea of camping, but it was exhausting looking after middle school kids. They just have so much energy.”
Although he looked after boys, fellow counselor Robert Benad seconded the notion that the kids were over-energetic. However, he said that their energy was more invigorating than exhausting, and the chance to work with kids was his primary motivation for becoming a counselor.
“It sounded pretty fun in general, working with kids and I get out of school for three days, so it was worth it. … I’d definitely do it again; my kids were the best, definitely.” Benad said. “Probably the funniest thing was when they broke down my door. I still don’t know how it happened, but that was pretty cool.”
McSparin said the choice to take seventh graders on the camping trip is no random choice — research has shown that interest in science classes drops for many that year. The camp, she said, is an effort to reinvest kids in science, and high school counselors play an essential role in role modeling.
The goal of the camp is to get everybody outside, enjoying science outside of the classroom and show them that it’s not just paper, pencil, indoor lab, that you can do science outside, you can see it outside and kind of get away and explore nature,” McSparin said. “So they come out and do class sessions, we do hikes, we do scavenger hunts, bonfires, but focusing on how science fits into all of those things.”
Senior Earl Salmons, also a counselor, said the camp was not only about educating the seventh graders, but for the older students as well. He said though his original motivation for volunteering was to be with friends, he learned to have fun with what the kids were enjoying.
“A couple of my friends said they were going to go, so it sounded like it might be kind of fun,” Salmons said. “Going on a hike with the kids was the most memorable part. Kids seemed to like that a lot.” 
Though Tran, Benad and Salmons said looking after middle schoolers was the largest part of their time at Camp Clover Point and Camp Rising Sun, it wasn’t all there was to the camps. Counselors organized, met and talked with adults running the camp, and each evening ended with a counselors-only bonfire.
“Every night we had a bonfire just with the high school counselors,” Tran said. “It was our alone time to relax and be with people our age.”
By Adam Schoelz and Ipsa Chaudhary
 
Did you go to one of the sessions? What was your favorite moment?