Sunday morning, after updating you all on my adventures to Bonaire, I got in a car and drove to Ohio to begin my next set of educating experiences. As I may have mentioned, I will be working with an outdoor education (OE) program (experiential learning) in Ohio. Due to the social media agreement I signed, I don’t feel comfortable giving much more information about it than that and will be speaking about some things in very vague terms, per this agreement. I will be (well, should be, assuming there aren’t problems like the last place I tried to work at, see Laysan) here for the next five months, working with school groups through May and then kids with learning and behavioral disorders through the summer. Our camp site is located near a lake and a state park, among the rolling hills of Ohio where corn fields are interspersed with woods and small towns.
I got to Camp (as I shall refer to it hence forth) Sunday evening, just in time for pizza, which one of my fellow staff members had decided to make for the evening, a very pleasant surprise. Turns out, he likes to bake a lot, too, so we already have something in common! I met the other guys that were already here and we watched Police Academy to end our night, after some exchange of camper stories. To my surprise, there are mostly guys working here. I say to my surprise because it has been my experience that more girls tend to work education and camp jobs than guys, but hey, I do not mind a house not packed with estrogen.
Monday was work(ish) time, no school was showing up yet. Some of the guys in the (old) house that we live in desperately wanted to repaint the upstairs rooms because they were getting a little moldy and looked awful. We got one of them fully painted – white ceiling, beige walls, and red trim. They look gorgeous now.
On Tuesday, the first school group of the spring showed up! Before their arrival, we had a group meeting to discuss the plan for the week, then jumped right into the excitement. As you may have noticed, I have not had any official training with this Camp. That is because my trip made me miss the training that did happen. Luckily, this first school group was small (<50 kids), so I was able to shadow other counselors who were quite experienced with OE. With the kids on property, we got them oriented to their surroundings, their bunk, and the expectations of the camp, then played some games! After lunch, they (and I) had their first classes. I got to shadow two sessions of GeoDomes, building geodesic domes using logs and lashings, for the afternoon, then helped with a big teambuilding game a jump rope before dinner. As it turns out, meals here are quite good, especially for a high quantity operation. The cook is an absolutely lovely woman, who treats the camp staffers far, far too well. At most meals, she has a little something extra, usually healthier, available for us in the back of the kitchen – a great salad bar at lunch, steel cut oats at breakfast, etc.
That night, after the teachers got their kids back for an hour, a few of us staffers put on a campfire for the kids. Luckily, my years of Boy Scout work have left me with a small stockpile of songs and skits to add to large pile the camp already has on hand. Waddily-atcha was a huge hit. After the fire, I helped one of the old-pro staffers get their kids ready for bed, really just to see how it was done, and spent the night in their cabin, just so I had an idea of how it all went down.
Wednesday morning: get the kids to the bathroom, then to breakfast, and then a very fun day of ropes course work started up. In their “tribes” (groups of about a dozen kids), they got to test themselves on the Panter Pole, Giant Swing, and a high ropes series of elements. On the Panther Pole, one climbs up a 25’ pole with the goal of standing on the top and then jumping off to grab “Wilson, a suspended volleyball. The climber is harnessed in and held up by members of their tribe from the ground when they jump. Some kids could barely make it off of the ladder, while others scrambled right to the top. On all of the different obstacles, we practice “Challenge by Choice”, so only do what you feel comfortable challenging yourself to do, with some words of encouragement from the staff and your tribe-mates. It was always very exciting to see kids take another step past where they insisted they had to stop, or finally let go of the pole when they were terrified to moments before.
The Giant Swing is exactly what it sounds like, a very large swing. The swingee is harnessed into two metal cables and suspended between to 50’+ poles, then hoisted up to a third pole behind them by the rest of their tribe and released from up to 40’ in the air. It looks exhilarating. Of course, challenge by choice, so some people allowed themselves to be hoisted all of the way up, while others chose to only go a few feet above where they started. Only nearly witnessed one terrifying instance there when one of the kids decided he was tired of pulling the rope up with his hands, so looped it around his foot to run the person up the pole. Thankfully, one of the counselors noticed this dilemma and stopped everything before he was hoisted 40’ in the air by his foot.
The ropes course is a series of wire suspended elements, about 30’ in the air that the kids can run themselves around on, clipping their leads in and out, with staff permission, to try as much, or as little, as they want. If they’re really up for a high flying time, they can take the zip-line to the ground. I should be getting certified to help run the course in the next couple of weeks, which will be awesome
After a long day up in the air and in the snow, the kids had a night hike in store for them, and by “hike” I mean a five minute walk into the woods followed by activities. I tried to teach a little about night vision – why pirates wore patches, how carrots help you see, and how hard it is to see colors at night. We played Bat and Moth and tried to call an owl to fly by our group. It was definitely a fun time and then they were off to bed!
Thursday was full day hike, which some of the kids were just not ready for. The group I was with got dropped off away from camp and hiked back (maybe three miles total) over the course of the day. Early on we stopped by an abandoned mine shaft so the kids could look at it, slid down a snow covered hill, skipped rocks on the creek, and admired a tree that had managed to grow into a loop. Then, the hike took us to two mostly frozen waterfalls, which had really beautiful icicle formations. At the first we stopped for our packed lunch, and at the second we descended down some tree roots to the small stream below, and followed that to the creek we started at, below the lake’s dam. Some of the kids had been complaining all day about wanting to just go back to camp and around the second waterfall, one of them was starting to feel sick. With a little encouragement and a lot of sips of water, she was back on her feet and even opted to continue hiking after being offered the chance to get a ride back to camp. That was awesome. We checked out the dam and the lake, of course taking an opportunity to throw rocks onto, and through, the frozen water. We played some games on the way around the lake listened to half of the groups desperate pleas to return to camp, while the other wished to continue hiking forever. After a visit to a beach, with an opportunity for geocaching and rock throwing (the most popular activity ever, obviously), we did return to camp, where we played games for half an hour until dinner.
Even though almost all of the kids were completely pooped from their day hike, we had another campfire planned for after dinner, and I got to be involved once again. This one included lots and lots of songs, plus some brief skits. My favorite part, though, was my “official initiation” into staffhood here at camp. One of the counselors started using kids to “build” a house for himself – two for the door that went squeak when you walked through, one for a doorbell, two for a couch that squished, one for a toilet that farted, one for a bearskin rug that roared, one for a refrigerator that oinked, two for a fireplace, and then all he needed was a fire for his fire place. I was “lucky” enough to be given that position. I probably should have seen what was coming. When the fire was “lit”, it jumped up and yelled “Fire! Fire!”, which is exactly what I did when the last kid came through to test the house. As soon as I started, two other staffers ran up and doused me with cups of water. It was hilarious. After the campfire, I was in charge of a kid’s cabin all by myself for the last night and got them to do a round of the Warm Fuzzies and Cold Pricklies with me (thorns and roses in other terms), which went surprisingly well.
On Friday morning, the kids had their last two classes (whichever ones they had not had on Tuesday afternoon), then lunch, and afterwards they departed, missing us all very much. By this point, the staff was quite fairly exhausted, but we had a staff meeting to talk about the pros and cons of the week. Here at camp they have started doing this with the +ΔRx (Plus Delta Rx) system. Plus is for the good things that happened, Delta is for the things that need to change, and Rx is the prescriptions for the future. It is a pretty good system. We also talked about the future couple weeks, which I will be excited to tell you all about when they are done, and then we were free to just chill.
That afternoon I went grocery shopping, to have some stuff available to myself in the staff house (fruit, flour, and peanut butter) and started dough for a loaf of bread. On Saturday, I ran (it is a beautiful area to run in) finished my loaf of bread, aided in the continued painting of the upstairs rooms, conversed with family and friends about my arrival here, and just chilled out. Sunday morning, I went with one of my fellow staffers to a nearby church service, of the modern variety, about Milk and cravings. It was a very interesting experience. This afternoon, we are planning on making a trip to maple sugar festival going on at a nearby farm, which should be a great time!
Next week, we’ve got a HUGE school group coming, so I am wishing myself lots of luck here.