Looking Forward to the Return of School Groups
by Julianne Yost, Outdoor Education Director
We had just finished staff training for an exceptionally good group of seasonal Outdoor Education (OE) staff. I could feel their excitement as the first school groups started to arrive at the beginning of the OE season. The school groups came and the week was going great! Thursday dinner, I was standing in the River Village fellowship room, joking with some of the teachers about a gaga tournament when the principal received a phone call from the school. She came back and said that the school was closing due to concerns regarding COVID-19 and they would need to take the busses home first thing tomorrow.
This began the snowball effect of closings and cancelations across all walks of life. And at Camp Tecumseh, before the devastating decision to cancel summer camp, came the heartbreaking choice to not host school groups for the spring.
I have been working in the Outdoor Education field for seven years and it is my favorite part of camp. I love that kids who may never have any other camp experience, have an opportunity to be here for two or three days. We get to see students who struggle in the traditional classroom, thrive in this outdoor environment. As the Outdoor Education Director at Camp Tecumseh in 2020, I was also able to see first-hand how much this trip means to the teachers and students that count down all year. I could see the excitement in the teachers who have been coming for 20+ years, the students who have been hearing from siblings and friends how much this experience meant to them and how much fun they would have, and the guardians who look forward to spending two technology, sport, music lesson, and homework free days with their child.
AN OPPORTUNITY TO CONNECT WITH AND GAIN RESPECT FOR THEMSELVES
During a school program, students get to try new things. They get to figure it out, fail, realize it’s okay to fail, and try again on their own. They get to be away from the adult they live with maybe for the first time ever. The sense of independence that a student is able to experience during this overnight trip can help to build self-confidence, resiliency, and trust in the community outside of their immediate home.
AN OPPORTUNITY TO CONNECT WITH AND GAIN RESPECT FOR THEIR COMMUNITY
At Camp Tecumseh, we ask the teachers and adult chaperones to help us teach the trails while the students are here. I will admit, I was a skeptic of this method when I first started at Tecumseh. I had never seen this at any other camp I have worked with and wondered if we would sacrifice the quality of the program by asking guardians to be teachers. I quickly saw the value in kids interacting with adults outside their immediate circle. Having adults in their life that they trust is essential for children. When a student gets to see not only their teachers but also their best friend’s mom, dad, aunt, uncle, or grandparent, outside of the traditional school environment, it breaks down a boundary that may otherwise exist. These adults are encouraged to be silly at campfire and have fun while they are here as well. Outdoor Education isn’t just for the students to grow and have fun – the adults play an important part in our program and it helps them to feel included and build lasting memories with the students, while strengthening the school community.
AN OPPORTUNITY TO CONNECT WITH AND GAIN RESPECT FOR THE NATURAL WORLD
This one’s easy. Whether it is in the Oak Forest with our Team building program, catching fish from the Tippecanoe River during Pioneering, or exploring the wonders of the Pine forest with Earthship Journey, students spend their days immersed in the outdoors. Questions are encouraged, “nature moments” are encouraged – because I truly believe – the more we understand the world around us, the more committed we are to taking care of it.
This past year has been difficult in so many ways for students and teachers. We are so excited to finally begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel with our school programs this spring and into the fall. I’d like to leave you with an email I received from a teacher at one of our school’s when she found out camp was offering Day Programs for the Spring.
“Thank you so much! We are so excited.
We had decided not to tell the kids about the cancellation of the normal trip until after Christmas. Hopefully you all know how much experiencing camp means to these kids. They haven’t even been, some don’t even know how to say Tecumseh but they’ve heard from their friends and siblings from years past what it’s all about. They are so excited, they put a countdown in the room and change it every day. We knew telling them it was cancelled would be devastating and didn’t want to ruin their Christmas break. Lol. This school year looks so different and they are already down because they have lost so much of normal school, if we had to take away camp altogether, we would have a serious problem on our hands. When they talk about how they can’t sit with their friends at lunch, or play with them at recess or work in groups their silver lining has always been, well at least we still get to go to camp. Thank you for working so hard to keep us all safe but also letting us come even if this year it looks different.
Now we will be able to put a good spin on not having an overnight trip.
Sorry for my rambling, we are just so thankful for all you do!”
– Teacher from Prairie Crossing
Julianne Yost is the Outdoor Education director, and one of our Lake Village directors in the summer. She has worked at Tecumseh since January 2018.