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At summer camp, teacher and her family get to know students outside class

When sixth-grade teacher Shelly Alvarez steps into her Red Hawk Elementary classroom this fall, she likely will already know some of her students. In her 12 years working with the district, she has taught kindergarten, first, second and fifth grades — and she’s been to summer camp with many of her students.

Pine Ridge Bible Camp is just down the road from the school, and Alvarez, her husband and their four daughters live just a few miles from the 100-acre facility. For the past four summers, the whole family has headed to camp, where Shelly is program director.

Christian Mayer of Cedar Springs, left, enjoys holding a young rabbit with camp counselor Julianne Wonser

“My favorite part of teaching  — besides, of course, helping the children learn — is helping them process life and form their own view of the world,” she said. “Here I encourage kids to see the world through a biblical lens, but it is more than that. I love inviting them to figure out what the world — what nature — has to offer. And I enjoy letting them just be kids.”

Campers spend time outside hiking, swimming, playing games, riding and caring for horses as well as exploring nature. “It is such a pleasure to introduce them to all of nature and let them explore,” said Alvarez.

Getting to know students outside the traditional school setting is another benefit for those who see her again when classes resume.

“I love serving the kids — many of whom I have met or will meet at school. Camp is a great way to build positive relationships,” she explained. “I often meet kids here that really need someone else in their corner.

“I get to know them on a personal level, different than at school — not just as the student that needs a little extra help in math or struggles to read. When they get to school, they remember me from camp; sometimes they will swing by my room just for a high-five. They know they have one more adult on their side.”

Shelly Alvarez makes the most of her summer duties at camp before setting up her sixth-grade classroom at Red Hawk

Family Serves Together

The camp experience also reaps benefits for the Alvarez family, she said. Being together for activities such as competitive games, zip lining, hiking, horseback riding, and water sports is just one of the perks.

“It has been great for our girls,” said Alvarez. “We get to spend the summer doing fun things together. Sometimes I have to go to a meeting or something, but I am here whenever they need me. Plus, the entire staff is like family.”

The Alvarez children are learning how to serve as well, their mother said. Hope, who will be in seventh grade, can often be found helping out on the waterfront or in the kitchen.

“If she sees something that needs to be done, she is there,” said Alvarez.

Gloria Alvarez will be a sophomore at Cedar Springs High School in the fall. She spent four summers as a Pine Ridge camper before she started coming with her family. “Mostly I ran around and played, but helped when I could,” Gloria said of the first summer her mother came aboard.

Now she is honing new life skills, including leadership and responsibility. “I love animals, and this year they are letting me run the petting farm by myself,” she said. In addition to taking on responsibility for animal care and barn upkeep, she spends two to three hours every day introducing campers to the animals.  She also helps with the Pine Ridge Horse Camp.

What does she learn?

“People skills for sure,” Gloria  said. “I learn that you need a lot of patience working with little children. They may love you at one minute and be upset with you the next, and they don’t understand sarcasm at all.”

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Janice Holst
Janice Holst
Janice Holst was a reporter for SNN covering Kent City and Sparta. She has been both a teacher and a journalist. A former MLive reporter, she wrote features and covered local government and schools for Advance Newspapers for nearly two decades. She also was a recipe columnist and wrote features for Mature Life Style and occasional entertainment pieces for On The Town magazines. She lives in Sparta Township and enjoys spending some of her retirement hours writing the stories of the northern Kent County school districts.


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