by Caroline Johnston
Kissing banana slugs, hiking in the forests, wandering through tidepools and singing campfire songs; these are the things that define fifth grade camp. Many students look back at their time at fifth grade environmental camp as the highlight of elementary school, which is why so many Las Lomas students return to the camp to be counselors. Junior Campbell Zeigler said, “I [want] to be a counselor because I remember Outdoor Ed being really fun and I wanted to go back.” Other Las Lomas students experienced fifth grade camp for the first time as a counselor such as Junior Kamryn Dudwal, who moved to Walnut Creek after fifth grade. She said, “I was most looking forward to meeting new people and experiencing something new that I had never had the opportunity for in the past.”
Being a camp counselor is a great way to improve your leadership skills, and to receive community service hours. Many students also enjoy being counselors for the camp because it is a great way to disconnect and enjoy nature. Each counselor is in charge of around nine kids, but sometimes two counselors will be paired together and put in charge of a larger group of about twelve kids. The counselors lead the kids on hikes and other outdoor activities, as well as stay in a cabin with them overnight.There are also people at camp called “naturalists” who are older than the highschoolers and lead the informational activities at camp. The counselors also have disciplinary power through a check system so that the kids don’t get out of hand. Being a counselor is a big responsibility; Ziegler said, “I expect it to be a little challenging, especially trying to get all the kids to listen to me.” From 9:45-10:45, when the kids are already asleep, some of the counselors are allowed to leave the cabin to go work on homework with the other counselors while some are required to stay and patrol the kids. These roles switch off every night. However, several Juniors who were counselors last year said that they did not get as many breaks as they were promised before they went to camp.
During the week, everyone spends one day at the beach exploring tidepools and nearby marshes. There are also night activities such as a big dance with all of the cabins, referred to as the “Barnyard Boogie” where all the kids are encouraged to square dance with each other. Another day there is usually a skit night where each cabin creates and performs a skit in front of all the other cabins. Counselors and naturalists also lead their kids through a night hike in the forests of the camp. The program takes place in October and November, so it requires counselors to miss a week of school. This deters a lot of people from participating, because of how much homework, projects and tests they would have to make up. However, Dudwal said, “My teachers were encouraging and I had the opportunity to make up all the work that I missed that week.” The camps are either four or five days long, depending on the elementary school. A lot of the time, environmental camp takes place at Camp Loma Mar, near Pescadero, which is about an hour and forty five minute bus ride from Walnut Creek.
Overall, the majority of the students who have returned to camp as a counselor have enjoyed their time there and learned a lot about leadership skills and responsibility.