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Fourth-graders celebrate year’s end with overnight camping retreat


Kalob Bucher put the final light brown glaze on his marshmallow before he pulled it out the woodfire and admired his snack.

Kalob was one of about 120 fourth-graders at Pine Island Elementary School who celebrated their final weeks of class with a 25-year tradition – an overnight retreat at Salvation Army’s Little Pine Island Camp and Retreat Center, located about a mile from their school.

Fourth-grader Katie Meyne made a zentangle tile as one of the craft projects during the Pine Island Elementary School’s annual retreat

“It’s been really fun so far,” said Kalob, whose class enjoyed outdoor cooking and games, art and craft projects, dance routines and a pontoon boat ride out to Little Pine Island, where they competed in a nature-based scavenger hunt. “I saw some really big turtles,” said Kalob of the voyage to the island.

Julie Barnes, one of the teachers who organized the event, said the school’s five fourth-grade teachers rely on about 40 parents to supervise the kids, who are organized into groups and assigned brightly colored baseball caps to keep them organized.

“We don’t allow any down-time. You can’t have down-time,” said Barnes, who has been teaching fourth grade at Pine Island Elementary for 18 years.

Located on the south shore of Little Pine Island lake, the Salvation Army camp hosts a series of overnight camping events throughout the summer that includes senior citizens, musical bands, teenagers and kids.

Fourth-grader Terrence Hawkins warms up by the fire

Barnes said the overnight camp helps the students make new friends because the groups are intentionally blended to include members from each of the school’s five classes. While not all of the school’s fourth-graders attend the event, which costs $65 per student to attend, most do with help of candy bar sales and some private gifts.

Shawn Wessell attended with his son, Wyatt. It was his second time as a chaperone, said Wessell, who helped two years ago with his older son.

“It was a little bit wild. But they’re fourth-graders,” Wessell said of the night he spent in a bunkhouse.

The retreat ended with a group performance of “Old Town Road,” a country rap song the kids adopted as their theme song.

Terrance Hawkins summed up the retreat while he waited to roast a marshmallow in a picnic shelter. “We got to learn while having fun.”

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James Harger
James Harger
James Harger left School News Network in January of 2020. James previously reported on West Michigan's economy, courts and politics for The Grand Rapids Press and Mlive.com for more than 37 years. He also is employed as Servanthood Leader at Immanuel Lutheran Church in downtown Grand Rapids. A graduate of Central Michigan University, he also has worked for publications in Holland, Mount Pleasant and Lansing. He is married to Lisa and has one daughter, who lives in Ann Arbor.

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