Beginning my 16th year of teaching, the structure of the first staff in-service day of the new school year hardly gives me reason to blink.
Once I settle on the hard cafeteria bench with my coffee, the routine comes like clockwork: We receive our daily schedules and class lists, do a couple of icebreakers to meet new staff, get information on general changes at the school and district level, find out how our students fared on last spring’s state assessments, and fill out emergency contact cards.
Struck by the similarities between our first day back to school and the yearly camp orientation, I begin daydreaming not about grading journals and setting up reading groups, but about everything (and everyone) I miss from camp.
Lost in reminiscing, I barely notice the hubbub brewing around me until a couple of colleagues pick up their purses and pack away papers. During my little trip down memory lane, the principal announced we were to meet him at the main entrance to the school in 10 minutes. We’re taking a field trip.
Sitting two-by-two on high-backed, green vinyl bus seats not yet sticky with late August sweat, we pull from the parking lot into the world of our students. Rather than bore us with statistics and demographics about the homes and neighborhoods where our students live, the principal takes us on a tour of our attendance boundaries.
These are roads many of us travel daily on our way to and from our classrooms, but they are almost always viewed through the lens of the teacher-as-busy-parent, getting to school from home, then returning home to grade papers, plan lessons, get the kids to practice, make dinner, run the family.
Our field trip is eye-opening in that we find ourselves observing and speculating on bits and pieces of the neighborhoods we hadn’t taken into much consideration before.
Two teachers count the number of vacant and boarded-up houses (17 on one stretch of city street alone). Others note the beautiful landscaping and gardens of some homes directly adjacent to others with garbage and clutter overflowing into the yard.
We pass toddlers without parents in sight and wave to a cheerful grandmother rocking on her porch, smiling as we pass by. We observe that the two-mile boundary that some of our students walk daily in the rain and snow is quite a hike, and that the public library is not nearly as far away as some students think.
As we wind through busy streets and slow intersections, I wish for a way to do the same with my campers. I’d love to know where they come from, how they live life the other 51 weeks of the year when we are not together.
What insights could we discover about why they come to our camp and what they hope to accomplish and experience each summer they come back to us?
The parallel of parents sending kids to camp and students to school strikes me deeply. Though the venue is different, the wish on behalf of parents is the same: A hope that school and camp will inspire their children to grow, learn and create relationships and habits that help transform them into the best version of themselves that they can be.
It’s up to us, teachers and camp counselors alike, to create that as best we can, every day, with each activity — whether it’s on the baseball field at camp or in the computer lab at school.
I’d love to hear your thoughts:
As a parent, what is the number one hope you have for your child for the new school year?
As a camp staff member, what is it that you want campers to gain most from their time with you?
Beth Morrow is a freelance author, educator and member of the Central Ohio Diabetes Association’s Youth Committee and Camp Leadership teams. She has served for 18 years as Senior Week program director for Camp Hamwi, a residential, age-based, week-long residential camp for diabetic youth. Reach her via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.