Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

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

Camp lessons hold true for St. Thomas More students

by Andrea Worley, for the Inland Register

(From the Dec. 2, 2004 edition of the Inland Register)

Rock climbing (above) and outdoor cooking skills were just two of the subjects St. Thomas More sixth, seventh, and eighth graders took on during their annual visit to Camp Wooten earlier this year. (IR photos from St. Thomas More School)

Lesson plans for the sixth, seventh and eighth grades at St. Thomas More School the week of Oct. 12 included horseback riding, archery, fly fishing, rock climbing and dozens of other activities and experiences that seem impossible to achieve in the classroom. The students didn’t just read about such things, they actually got hands-on experience with each one. All this, of course, indeed was not accomplished in the classroom, as the students spent four days of learning and bonding in a unique, outdoor setting at Camp Wooten.

This is the third year the sixth, seventh and eighth grade classes have participated in the camp, held in the Blue Mountains about 45 miles southeast of Dayton, Wash., on the Tucannon River. Students and staff at the school agree that this year’s camp turned out to be the best camp experience yet.

“It was great,” said Heather Graham, St. Thomas More sixth grade teacher. “It was the best one yet.”

The outdoor education camp was the spark of an idea several years ago for Doug Banks, principal of St. Thomas More. He began to reminisce of his own experiences as a young student when he saw other schools that have such camps at Camp Reed each spring and fall.

“There is so much more to it,” Banks said. “The educational experiences are great, but the time the students spend with each other, the activities that are designed for cooperative learning, and the opportunities for taking leadership are fantastic.”

The current eighth-grade class is the first class to attend Camp Wooten for three consecutive years, having gone as sixth graders in 2002. Their prior experience was key in helping make this year’s camp an even greater success, said Kim Worley, St. Thomas More eighth grade teacher.

“They were definitely role models of our camp,” Worley said.

It was the hope of the St. Thomas More staff two years ago that those sixth graders would build on their Camp Wooten experiences each year to become leaders of their younger peers this year, Worley said.

More importantly, the eighth graders seemed to thrive on the opportunity to act as role models and leaders.

“They worked really well together and they had a positive attitude about every single aspect of camp,” Graham said.

Eighth grader Shelby Neal said the leadership role gave the Camp Wooten experience this year a whole new aspect for her. She says she enjoyed being a leader and role model for the other classes. “I’m always trying to set a good example for the kids that are younger than me,” Neal said.

Eighth grader John Lipsker said he also enjoyed being a role model for his younger peers.

“I thought they responded well,” Lipsker said. “They listened and we listened to them.”

The younger students appreciated and respected the leadership role the eighth graders took on so well.

“They had done very well, amazing actually,” seventh grader Ryan Pry said. “They came together as one whole group and led us through everything.”

Seventh grader Sam Edminster also agreed, and appreciated the good job the eighth graders did.

“They would step up any time they could help,” Edminster said.

Graham said some of her sixth grade students initially felt a bit intimidated by the older eighth graders. The older students, however, were not intimidating at all, and the sixth graders learned that they are just “normal” people, Graham said.

“The sixth graders just ended up idolizing them afterwards,” Graham said.

Besides affording a unique opportunity for the three classes to bond, the camp also gives students opportunities and learning experiences that the classroom setting cannot offer. Students learned skills that will most definitely come in handy throughout their lives.

And this year, staff added new activities that were not offered in the previous two years, including horseback riding, archery and water safety. Students also learned firsthand how a fish hatchery works and about the life cycle of fish, how to read a compass and map, Dutch oven cooking, how to tie different knots, basic survival, rock climbing, fly fishing, and all about different tree species.

“We learned how to survive in the wild if we ever got lost,” sixth grader Sydney Weber said, adding that she thinks the mapping course will be useful later on in life as well. But her favorite part was the nighttime campfire where the classes sang songs and performed skits for each other.

Worley said the horseback riding this year also was a big hit with the students.

“The horses gave them a real sense of control,” Worley said, especially for those students who had never been around horses. Controlling a 1,000-pound animal was not an easy task for some.

It was challenging tasks like these that tested students’ limits, and helped some overcome fears, Worley said. She said these experiences helped build self-confidence, especially when students saw their peers taking risks and challenging themselves.

Neal said many of the activities did indeed help build her self-confidence. “By taking on a new challenge and completing it, it really boosts your self-confidence and makes you want to try new things,” she said.

Worley said students also enjoyed the group-building activities that were new this year. The activities allowed students to work in groups to accomplish physical challenges while building communication skills.

For some students, Camp Wooten is their first experience away from their homes and parents, and is a good one, as it provides a safe, comfortable environment with their teachers and peers.

“Our community is just unique in the sense we can pick up and move out for a week with no problems because we are like an extended family,” Graham said.

Students in all three grade levels get to know each other better over the four days and gain an appreciation for each another.

Banks spoke of how one side element is that any new students who come to St. Thomas More are immediately immersed into the groups and it opens up new friendships within hours that would otherwise take weeks.

“It does so much to build community and it spills over to the school when they return,” Banks said. “They are happy, excited and ready to tackle any challenge. It definitely shows in their school work once they return.”

Pry said what was most beneficial to him was the life experiences that will always be useful to him, and the new friends he made.

“I became new friends with many people,” Pry said.

Edminster also was appreciative of all the experiences Camp Wooten had to offer.

“I think that just the experience of all the stuff will make you a lot more original of a person,” Edminster said. “Maybe that will affect other peoples’ lives.”

Edminster’s favorite part about Camp Wooten, however, was the teachers and other camp staff, who he said all helped students learn and raised their spirits.

Lipsker said what made Camp Wooten so fun for him this year was the special privileges the elder class was afforded, such as being able to stay up later than the others and playing water polo.

The Camp Wooten experience just keeps getting better each year as school staff also becomes more knowledgeable about what to expect and how best to plan the activities.

The new activities, along with the strong leadership of the eighth graders, together helped make this year’s trip to Camp Wooten a memorable one.

“This was by far the best camp we’ve ever put on,” Worley said.

Worley said a lot of time and hard work goes into planning the four-day trip, but it’s all worth it in the end.

“I love it,” she said. “It’s the best week of my entire school year.”

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