Week 13 – A New Population

This past week, our school group was from inner-city Cleveland, and boy was it a different experience from the rest of the season. Every day was an exciting experience, so I’m going to have to chronologically.

Monday was Memorial Day, so, obviously we had a cookout! Unfortunately, it was rather damp all day, so we couldn’t have a ton of outside fun. Instead, I got to watch the first several episodes of the new season of Arrested Development! I got turned on to AD a few years ago and have watched the first three seasons (from the early-mid naughts) at least three times completely and was very excited to learn last spring that a fourth season and a movie were definitely on the horizon for the originally far under-appreciated show. Songbird has Netflix (where the new episodes have been released) and loves the show, too, so we watched several. It met expectations generated by the awesomeness of the originals. Our cookout was a great success – burgers, sausages, portobellos, corn, onion, pineapple (all on the grill), sweet potato salad, and all of it was just absolutely delicious. Stuffed ourselves. Plus homemade peach and blueberry pie for dessert, thanks to Mud, in our adult-built giant blanket fort. It was an awesome blanket fort.

On Tuesday, the school showed up. 23 black girls, 18 black boys, and one white girl. For comparison, I could probably count the number of non-white kids we’ve had the rest of this season on my hands alone. Inner city kids, so, as our director warned us, bugs and nature would be a “big deal” in general, and not in a good way. It was an awesomely hilarious week. Often challenging, for a few reasons – end of the school year, checked out teachers and students, cultural miscues, the greatest set of names I have seen, etc… – but there was so much fun to it, totally made up for it. For added fun, the teachers had split their tribes into two girls tribes and two boys tribes. I have no idea if it would have been better or worse if they were mixed. Monday afternoon, I started by taking an all girl’s tribe canoeing. Most of them had probably never been near a canoe before, but oddly enough pretty much everyone from the school was particularly excited to go canoeing – thank goodness. So, we got them their lifejackets, paddles, some instruction on how to use them, canoe groups, canoes for those groups, and then we were out on the lake. Luckily, it was less windy than the first time I had a canoe class, well, at least when we started… Still, before I had manage to launch all of the boats, one pair had capsized right next to the shore. So, I wadded out to them, pulled the canoe back to shore, dumped all of the water out, and sent them out again. As I expected, they had no real ability to control the canoes, but seemed to be having a rather decent time. And then they found dead fish in the lake, and reacted at both extremes of possible reactions – “eww, gross, keep it away” and “I gotta get a closer look”. Delightful. And, mostly the latter, actually. They even put two of the dead fish in one of the canoes for the next group to see. Unfortunately, the wind picked up and one of the boats got blown far away, so I had to paddle out to retrieve them, and after some aggressive prompting they got back to shore, too. We walked back to camp and got ready for the next activity, which they were far less excited for than canoeing, Geocaching. After an awfully dry introduction to the history of Geocaching (using GPS to find previously hidden caches with prizes and log books), we learned how to use the camp’s devices (which don’t work when it is cloudy, which it was), and took off walking around camp and through the woods to find the caches. So, walking and the woods are two things which are very low interest for these girls, certainly for at least half of them. They were tired, worried about poison ivy and bugs, and not particularly excited about finding the caches, probably because we only have answers to questions in the boxes. I hadn’t run the class before, but I would definitely consider putting more exciting prizes in the caches. Well, due to the disinterest and the poorly operating devices, I ended up pointing to the general area of the caches for the last three of the four caches, but they did find them all, and at least three of the girls got excited in the hunt. Option time, dinner, and teacher time all passed fairly uneventfully, and then it was time for the first of two campfires, usually something that is a freaking great time, singing songs, doing skits, and telling jokes and stories. Unfortunately, apparently our sense of humor does not cross this cultural divide and the jokes which we think are hilarious to end the skits crashed even harder than usual. And the camp songs did not stand a chance, no interest in singing along. It was rather frustrating. The next day I was asked why we didn’t do Kevin Hart jokes… I did not have a cabin until Thursday night, so I got to hang out with the staff.

Tuesday arrived with an all day hike through the adjoining state park. This time I had one of the all boy tribes, and, oddly enough, I had two teachers with me. Well, an intervention specialist and a student teacher: Mr. O and Ms. M, respectively, if I reference them again. Ms. M had been with me and the girls on Monday. For my hike, I chose to get dropped off at an orienteering drop off point, got by all three of the waterfalls, and visit the river, and hike all of the way back to camp – maybe 6-7 miles, and we had from 9-4:45 to do it all. Well, I started them camp with an introduction to Geology, talking about the rock cycle and such so I had a pretty poster to do it with. Then, it was off to the woods. It quickly became apparent that not all of these guys would be walking at the same speed, as some fell far behind. In This tribe, Tribe C, was one of the group’s main frustrations. He was often made fun of, but mostly, I assume, because he would respond in much the way people hope others will respond when they are made fun of, perpetuating the cycle. He lagged behind so he didn’t have to deal with everyone, and because he “hurt his ankle”. I pointed out the plants that I usually point out – Blood root, Mayapple, Garlic Mustard (invasive), Beech, Oak, Hemlock, Maple, without too much positive reinforcement response. One kid did get a pretty big kick out of pulling Garlic Mustard for the rest of the day, though, which was nice. At the first waterfall we visited, you can get back, underneath the falls by going under or around a very large rock, which they very much enjoyed doing. All of the falls we visited were looking very dry and slow, unfortunately, but this one actually had the largest spray. After several minutes there, we were off to the next falls. Because of the layout, I wanted to get to the third falls by lunch, to make sure we had enough time to walk back to camp. Before the second falls, I tried to get them to play a game of “Shawnee/Ottawa”, a variation on hide ‘n’ seek, but it was not of great interest to them where we tried to do it. The second falls, which are supposed to be biggest falls, certainly the tallest always, was very tame in appearance because it was so dry, so there was hardly any motivation to stay. From these falls it was a fairly easy walk to the third falls where we stopped for lunch of turkey and cheese sandwiches, fruit, chips, and GORP. Lunch was interesting because it is really a chance to listen to what the kids talk about, and I get the impression they only talk about two things – each other and cartoons. Now, I do not doubt that what I talked about as a middle schooler did not differ much from that, but I find it curious, especially when talking about each other just seems to irritate everyone. Well, at lunch Mr. O pointed out a slug on the rock wall, calling it a leech (apparently, another one of the teachers called a slug a snail on a different hike), and made a small fireball with an orange peel and a match. After lunch, we went to a beach on the river to continue our geology education, and passed a bunch of people on the way. I was kinda surprised by the number of people out and about hiking on a Wednesday, but it was certainly nice to see – families and such. At the beach we did some erosion demonstrations, cracked rocks, skipped stones, and played in the water. Shortly after, we stopped at a mine shaft and four of the nine went inside with me, where it was delightfully chilly, compared to the hot and humid out of doors. They scaled the dam hill, which is rather tall and steep, and then we began the hike back to camp. On the way, I had them complete a few tasks. First, the Human Knot challenge. Boy was it a challenge. Usually, it takes kids a couple tries because they let go of each other’s hands the first time. This group had no inherent cooperative abilities and it took five attempts to get it done, and even then I would not say that they really worked together to accomplish it. Their motivation to get untangled was particularly entertaining, though. They noticed that one of the girl’s tribes were catching up with them and did not want to be caught hugging each other (you can imagine what it might look like in an activity called the Human Knot), so I told them they better get untangled if they didn’t want to be caught hugging, and they did it. A little farther back, we stopped to do some Woods Words, which was not much of a success. They were tired and desperate to get back to camp by this point, so I think I got one or two focused responses out of the lot of them for it. Then, it was all of the way back to camp for them for option time, even got back early. I did learn, at camp, that some tribes and counselors had had a pretty rough time of the hike, which, based on the hour we walked around for Geocaching yesterday, I was not too surprised by. Anyway, option time on Wednesday was truly eventful. I took ten kids to play paper telephone – write a sentence on the top of a sheet of paper, pass it to the next person who draws a picture about that sentence and then folds the sentence out of view and passes it to the next person who writes a sentence about the picture and folds the picture back, etc… It is a really fun game to play if you haven’t tried. But, they were having a challenging time figuring it out, so I gave up and tried name monsters with them. During this quiet half an hour, one of the girls (a particularly loud and assertive one) asked me if I like Ms. M (the student teacher, if you remember) because she, the student, thought we would make a very cute couple. Oh geez. Now, as someone who has spent any time with school kids before, I know that there is no way to answer this question safely. Unfortunately, I laughed at it, which was instantly interpreted as “yes, obviously I like-like Ms. M and want to have children with her”. Sigh. A few of the girls spent the rest of their time at Camp trying to pass questions and answers between Ms. M and myself (who they had begun to call Mr. Dimples, and later Dr. Dimples) and doing everything in their power to get us together.  It was hilarious. Now, I would bet you’re asking why I didn’t point out that I am already in a relationship, well, I was pretty sure that would be a more time consuming task than the current one. That night after dinner and teacher time, we had the great idea to schedule the Night Hike. Nobody wanted to go anywhere and had exceptionally little ability to focus after getting to be goofy for a few hours.

Thursday morning brought us back to classes, and I was doing high ropes stuff all day. In the morning, I had that first tribe I had for canoeing (Tribe A, all girls), on the High Circuit. Because we’d had so much difficulty with them focusing both days, we laid down the law very hard at the start – if you do not pay attention, you will sit by yourself in the woods or field and contemplate nature for the next three hours. They were very good and ground school went extremely smoothly. Up on the course, it was a hoot and a holler. All of their behavior problems disappeared and they were just like every other group we’ve ever had, but way WAY more vocal about their dissatisfaction about the proximity of bugs, and especially bees, up on the course. So much screaming. After lunch, I was on the Giant Swing first, which went ok, and then I was back on the high circuit, all with the same tribe of boys. Same response – behavior problems disappear as they focus on not dying up on the course. A few shine up there, climbing everywhere and having a blast, and some get way freaked out, and some of those overcome it. The high circuit really is the great equalizer. After option time, dinner, and teacher time we had another campfire, which I was not a part of, but had the same challenges our first one had. And then I was in a cabin. Same kind of problems we’ve been seeing all week. I think I started it correctly, giving them two options – nice me or mean me, and it was up to them to choose which one of them they would get this evening. Outside the bathrooms they were decently quiet and only one fight broke out, so that wasn’t too terrible. More than other school groups, they continuously had to do things right after we did them as a group, such as having to go to the bathroom right when we got to the cabin after going to the bathrooms. Could be a method to just get away from the counselor and the group, but seriously… It took a few minutes to get them to quiet down after getting packed up for Friday morning, but once I started telling my story (another ~45 minute doozy) they were pretty much silent, which was awesome. I think they were pretty pooped. On the plus side, I’m getting better at being able to sleep in the cabins – less constant fear that something will happen.

Friday morning I was back on the ropes course with the other tribe of all girls, who I had not gotten to work with all week, unfortunately. They were definitely the best tribe to work with. Laid down the law the same way, and they were plenty cooperative. They seemed a rather tired, but attentive. Everyone in the tribe made it up to the treehouse and across at least one element, though, which is really awesome (better than the other three tribes), and most of them went down the zip line. It was a very pleasant way to end the week. Then, over lunch, the same girls that had been working the past 48 hours to get me together with Ms. M tried to get me to get her number, and shockingly enough, they handed me a piece of paper with a phone number on it at the end of the meal. “Umm. What?” was pretty much my response here (more to come). Well, then the students loaded up on their buses, we said our goodbyes, and they left, so it was clean up time. Not just any clean up time, though, as this was the final week of Spring Outdoor Education, we had a lot of extra clean up – cabins, dining hall, canoes at the beach, teaching materials to be put away for the summer, etc. Then we had a couple hours to get our house cleaned up and packed up if we needed to get packed up. You see, all of the staff have to move their things up to the lodge, by Monday, where we will live for the summer. I had to get my stuff moved out that afternoon because this weekend I am going on a whirlwind tour to see my AB and a number of other college friends in Connecticut and then North Carolina – woo hoo flying. After we were cleaned and packed up, our director got pizza and ice cream for everyone to enjoy at the beach, along with some little awards, which are her specialty. After cleaning up, and before the food had arrived, we staff decided we had to learn what number I had been given, written in orange marker in middle schooler hand on a ripped piece of graph paper from our food waste chart. We called it and discovered that it was, in fact, Ms. M’s phone number. As it turns out, she had given her students her e-mail address and had forgotten that her e-mail automatic signature contained a lot of personal information, number included. And, apparently, the kids had saved the number in their memories, or something, all of this time. Well, there is a lesson learned from someone else’s mistakes – my favorite way to learn something. Then the pizza arrived, and we enjoyed that, then a few of us had to peace out, mostly me to get to an airport, so the Director, Kestrel, started the award ceremony. She got each of us a “Demerit Badge” from www.demeritwear.com, check it out, it is definitely worthwhile. I earned the “Capsize” demerit badge for my great adventure from a couple weeks ago in which I helped three students carry a heavy canoe across two corn fields. Sigh, memories. Then, I was off to the airport to fly to CT, of course way of Charlotte, because that makes sense. Oh USAirways.

I was visiting my AB this weekend for two reasons – one, this would be my only chance for the next five weeks and her class’s White Coat Ceremony (end of the first year of her PT program recognition) was on Saturday afternoon. We spent some of Saturday morning preparing for that – making fruit salad and setting up the food table. But, first, for breakfast, we made mini bacon cups with baked egg filling, and I learned important lessons about making those: A) mini-cupcake cups are much too small for an entire egg, especially once it expands, and B) bake the bacon for a little bit first, before adding the egg in hopes that it will actually have a chance to get crispy. I’ll just have to try again sometime… The ceremony was short and sweet, with one particularly entertaining speech from a professor, who unfortunately choose to use two of the oldest jokes in the book, one about a sailor who always calls for his red vest during battle and another about God’s house in heaven. The relatively big event for me, though, was that her family would be coming to the ceremony, obviously, so I would be meeting them. It went very well, far less awkward than she was making it sound like it would be. Then, we went for ice cream as a large group. After ice cream, her family departed and we drove out to town she had been meaning to visit for a while for dinner. All food, all the time. That is how we do. We walked around trying to pick a restaurant and decided on a Thai place called Typhoon, and boy was it a good choice. I got a Massuman (sp?) Curry, which was delicious and finally, something nice and spicy for me to enjoy. It might not surprise you that we don’t really feed the kids spicy food. Well, after that we were pretty much stuffed full, so we just drove back to her apartment and lay on the couch digesting.

Early Sunday morning, we were up to get me back to the airport so I could fly to Wilmington NC to meet my college friends for a couple days by the beach! Dude, the Wilmington airport has all kinds of nice couches and chairs. It hardly looks like an airport.

Wow, that’s a lot to read. Mad props to you if you made it this far without skipping. And a great big thanks to those of you who have been around for all 50 previous posts! 50! That’s crazy. I had a great first season with Camp and I am very excited for the summer – the challenges and joys brought on by kids with learning, behavioral, and emotional disabilities. Woo! I’ve made a lot of really good friends and I’m feeling a bit of a tug to stick around for the fall OE season, too… we’ll see. Maybe I’ll just stop using those “Week XX” titles…

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This entry was posted in Food, Outdoor Education, People, Road Trip, USA!. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Week 13 – A New Population

  1. Pete Saucier says:

    It sounds as though the week was educational in two directions. Do you think that you will develop better ways to connect to urban children through this experience?

  2. Yeah, I think it definitely solidified the ideas I already had – the need for cultural and community buy-in. Building a solid foundation of trust with the families and kids which will help them gain desire to participate through joining their community or getting members of their community to join the program as counselors. Those are two things that I think would really be beneficial.

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