From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Outdoors experience shapes learning, community for St. Thomas More students

by Andrea Evans, for the Inland Register

(From the Nov. 14, 2002 edition of the Inland Register)

• St. Thomas More students' experience at Camp Wooten included a wide range of outdoor activities, rock climbing among them. (IR photo from St. Thomas More School)
• Canoeing was part of the Camp Wooten experience. (IR photo from St. Thomas More School)

Spending a week in the sun and outdoors doesn’t sound like a typical school week, but the week of Oct. 7-10 wasn’t a typical week for the sixth, seventh and eighth graders at St. Thomas More Catholic School.

More than 70 students, five staff members and five parents spent this week at Camp Wooten, an environmental outdoor education camp located in the Blue Mountains about 45 miles southeast of Dayton, Wash. The group left for Camp Wooten on Monday and returned Thursday afternoon.

“It was a busy, exhausting four days but definitely worth it,” said Kim Worley, the eighth-grade teacher at St. Thomas More.

Each day began at about 7 a.m. Breakfast was at 8 a.m., followed by a rundown on the day’s activities. Students broke off into groups of about 10 where they would rotate from one learning session to another. The groups spent one hour at each session, where they learned about science, the outdoors and environment.

Military personnel taught survival skills such as how to build a fire, what plants are edible and how to signal for help. A professional fly fisherman taught everyone how to fly fish. Mountain climbers provided a session on rock climbing, and other professionals were on hand to teach students about trees, forest fires, how to tie different knots, how to read a compass, and how to draw a map of Camp Wooten.

“We learned that you can take a rope and basket and measure the depth of a pond,” sixth-grader Lauren Layton said.

Students also learned Dutch oven cooking. Cassie Ricco, an eighth-grader, said the girls made a pineapple upside down cake one day, while the boys made apple crisp the next day. Students also learned about fish, mapmaking and chromatography.

At the end of each session, students spent 10 minutes writing about what they learned and what they thought about each session.

“We wanted to include writing, but we also wanted them to have something to take back as far as a memory,” said Sandi Nokes, the music teacher and algebra and pre-algebra teacher at St. Thomas More.

Before lunch, students participated in the “Olympics,” where they played and competed in softball, football, volleyball, water polo and hockey.

Five parents volunteered to spend the week at Camp Wooten to do all the cooking. They started breakfast around 5 a.m. and cooked all day until the dishes were done at about 10 p.m., said Molly Beyer, a parent volunteer. They provided breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks throughout all four days.

“We really were never not cooking,” Beyer said.

After the lunch break, the students rotated through more learning sessions. After dinner, they enjoyed an hour of swimming in the indoor swimming pool before gathering around the campfire. A different activity was planned for each night. One night they performed skits for each other, one night they sang songs and another night they played a game of capture the flag.

Camp Wooten proved to be much more than a place where students learned about the outdoors and environment; the experience provided an opportunity for both the students and staff to build their relationships.

“I learned a lot about my students as individuals,” Worley said. “I got to see them in a totally different light than I’ve seen them before.” She also added that the three separate grade levels have bonded. They get along better and are more willing to help one another.

Nokes said she was surprised at the community-building experience the camp provided. “It was more than we could ever have expected,” she said.

The students also noticed that the camp has helped bring them together. “We got to see a whole other side of everybody,” said seventh grader Erick Henderson. “A lot of our classmates bonded.”

Ricco said her class has always been close, but Camp Wooten has helped everyone become better friends after having an opportunity to get to know one another better. She said she learned a lot about her classmates and friends throughout the week, and the journaling time after each session helped her express those feelings.

Sixth-grade teacher Heather Graham said a lot of her students didn’t realize the depth of the science curriculum. Since returning from Camp Wooten, her students are more eager to do hands-on activities. After recently completing a lesson on minerals, the sixth-grade class is now growing a crystal garden, she said.

“They didn’t realize science means actively working on things,” Graham said.

The camp provided students with real-life experiences. “So now they can use what they’ve learned and apply it to real life,” she said.

The sixth, seventh and eighth grade classes recently put together a presentation to show their parents what they did at camp. Parents came to their children’s classes one evening to see the presentation and dozens of pictures of what they did during the week. The fifth-grade class was also invited since those students will be given the opportunity to go next year.

St. Thomas More Principal Doug Banks said he is grateful for all of the energy, time, and commitment given by the teachers and parents of St. Thomas More to bring such a valuable program to the students.

“The intangible benefits of community, care and respect for one another, and appreciation for God’s gifts to all of us are valuable outcomes of this program that will last in the memories of these students for years to come,” Banks said.

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