The Benefits of Ondessonk Outdoor Education
The Benefits of Ondessonk Outdoor Education by Greg Santen
For more than 30 of Camp Ondessonk’s 59-year history, our gates have been open to school groups from all over the region for overnight outdoor education field trips and class retreats. This school year has seen rapid growth in the number of schools visiting Camp, as well as the programs we offer including our new spiritual retreat curriculum. This school year, eight new Catholic or private schools from the St. Louis, Belleville, and Evansville areas and four new public schools from Camp’s local area have been added to our busy program calendar. We welcome these new members of our family as they begin a hopefully long tradition of bringing their students to Camp.
One school with a long tradition of overnight trips to Camp is St. Bruno in Pinckneyville, Illinois. Every March, they come to Camp for teambuilding and spiritual retreat. A few of the 8th Grade students and teachers had the opportunity to share their reflections on their trip.
Outdoor education and retreats at Camp Ondessonk afford both students and teachers benefits they cannot get in a traditional classroom or church setting. A St. Bruno teacher said, “Seeing nature first-hand and having space to move around are major educational benefits. There are numerous things you can do outside that you can’t inside. You can’t zipline in the classroom or gym! Being out in the open gives [the students] a sense of freedom. Spiritually, nature brings us closer to God [and] His creations.” A parent of a St. Bruno 8th Grader who chaperoned the trip says Camp provides kids the ability “to build the confidence to overcome obstacles not only mentally but physically, to overcome their fears, and to try new things.”
When asked why they chose Ondessonk specifically for their class trip rather than another destination, one teacher cited Ondessonk’s “feeling and atmosphere— it is a special place and provides great experiences kids might not get elsewhere. The [outdoor education] staff are amazing with the kids, patient, funny, entertaining, [and] especially adept at making kids want to [participate], but not pushing those who are not ready.” Another parent said, “Ondessonk provided us a one-on-one setting with no distractions in an environment to practice our faith openly.”
Many teachers, administrators, and parents may be apprehensive about sending their kids on an overnight trip to Camp. A teacher from St. Bruno commented, “Our school has shared a relationship with Ondessonk for quite some time and sees the benefits for our students. It was an easy sell, and our school and parish community supported us financially and spiritually by praying for us.” Another teacher and parent of an 8th Grader said, “The students were very excited and were looking forward to this trip all year. As a parent, I was excited for my child to gain experiences and memories they can share with other classmates.”
The students at St. Bruno were also able to reflect on their trip and recognized the growth they were experiencing. One of the tenets of the outdoor education model is taking kids – safely and briefly – out of their comfort zones. In a world that is increasingly sugarcoated and bubble-wrapped, it is becoming more and more necessary to do this for kids (and adults). One 8th Grader was a little “nervous about the heights [at the high challenge course], but excited about overcoming my fears.” But this student felt encouraged to step out of their comfort zone with “the support of the counselors, and it taught me to trust people more.” Another student was nervous about climbing up to the zipline, but the experience “taught me to trust that others had my back and that I can do whatever I set my mind to.”
Students were also asked to list what they were most excited about and their favorite parts of Camp. They mentioned the zipline, Giant Swing, bonfires, the family atmosphere, friendly counselors, and of course, foil burgers as some of the things they enjoyed most. The students also noticed changes in their relationships with their classmates. One student “feels we’ve learned to understand each other better.” Another “feels I know them a little better and am closer to some of my friends.”
It was a lot of fun kicking off the 2018 Spring Outdoor Education Season with St. Bruno yet again this year. Camp is very proud to be part of helping schools achieve the goals for their students. For St. Bruno, the goals their teachers set for coming to Camp were to work as a team, reflect on personal goals and values, become aware of their abilities, and to dig deeper into their spiritual lives. An Ondessonk experience does this and much more for anyone who comes here to grow and learn. Additionally, we always encourage kids of all ages to keep Camp in their lives all year, not just summer. We have many schools visiting this spring and have openings for even more school visits in the fall. Our new retreat curriculum and climate-controlled rooms make Ondessonk the perfect place for school retreats, even in winter. If you are interested in bringing your school, church, or scout group to Camp, call our office for more information. We look forward to seeing you at Camp soon.