Camp Ondessonk Outdoor Education Staff Welcomes Many New School Groups in 2018
The Camp Ondessonk Outdoor Education Staff is already hard at work on another busy season as late summer fades into fall. The sun and the trees are already showing signs of the shorter days, cooler temperatures, and explosion of color Camp will enjoy later in October while we continue our year-round mission of inspiring spiritual growth through nature to thousands of kids of all ages.
School groups across the region come to Camp for overnight outdoor education field trips and class retreats. This 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. Outdoor education is similar to summer camp in that kids get to play in the woods, eat foil burgers around the campfire, and sleep in a treehouse, all while they grow as individuals. However, coming to Camp with their classmates affords them a more laid-back, intimate atmosphere where students may bond with their classmates and get to know themselves and each other better as they enjoy activities and classes designed to supplement their in-school curriculum.
In 2018, four new schools from the Diocese of Belleville, three new schools from the Archdiocese of St. Louis, one new school from the Diocese of Evansville, and six 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 the tradition of bringing their students to Camp.
One of the newly added schools, Queen of All Saints from St. Louis, had the unique distinction of being our first group of the fall season in early September. None of the 7th graders had ever been to Camp Ondessonk before. I had a chance to get some feedback on their experience as first-timers and what they learned. When I asked them to share favorite parts of their Ondessonk experience, students told me they enjoyed looking at the stars at night, singing around the campfire, partaking in the night hike and the high challenge course, and of course, bonding with the counselors. Sound familiar?
Also similar to summer camp, a class trip to Ondessonk takes students out of their comfort zones. I asked the students from Queen of All Saints which camp activity took them most out of their comfort zones and wondered what that might have taught them about themselves. Many students mentioned that experiencing our new high challenge course and being outside their comfort zones taught them that “I can do things now that scared me before,” and “I’m stronger than I thought.” One student said, “It taught me to trust myself.” Another student said it was a challenge to sleep outside at first, but it “taught me that I could do anything.” Stepping out of one’s comfort zone taught one student “it is good to be open to learning new things.” It was a bit different for another student to “be with classmates that I sometimes don’t hang out with, and now they are some of my closest friends.”
That aspect of growing closer as a class is yet another benefit of bringing students to Ondessonk on an overnight trip. Students at Queen of All Saints said they’ve “gotten to know more about [my classmates] during teambuilding activities” and “have been talking with more people in my grade” after visiting Camp. One student said she feels “I have grown closer to my friends because we have never had a time when the whole grade spent the night somewhere.” Other students said they “learned their strengths and weaknesses,” “feel we have opened up more to each other,” and “learned how to work together in different ways.”
One of the teachers who chaperoned the trip with her 7th graders, Laura Bruner, also had a great experience in bonding with her students. Mrs. Bruner commented, “The early teens are a prolific time for social, spiritual, and personal maturation. It is an ideal time for students to experiment with independence to bolster this development. At Camp Ondessonk, modern distractions are stripped away, replaced with the beauty of God’s creation. In removing them from their comfort zone, the opportunity for growth increases exponentially. Through attention to detail and well-trained staff, Camp Ondessonk successfully challenges students and promotes self-reliance.” Mrs. Bruner’s students are lucky to have a teacher like her who appreciates the importance of occasionally getting kids out of the classroom and outdoors.
An Ondessonk experience does this and much more for anyone who comes here to grow and learn. We still have openings for schools to visit Camp later this fall and in the spring pf 2019. Our new retreat curriculum and climate-controlled rooms make Ondessonk the perfect place for class 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 soon! Heepwah!
By Greg Santen, Program Director
The 2018 Fall Outdoor Education Program Staff: (left to right) Adam Greenacre, Bobby Thornton, Ryan Kiefer, Chris Bretscher, Emily Reider, and Rachel Calero.
Click here to learn more about our Outdoor Education Program.