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No camping trip? No problem, camp’s coming to you

Sixth-graders substitute nearby day camp for annual overnight outing

Grandville — If the sixth-graders can’t go to overnight camp, their teachers are going to do everything they can to bring the camp experience to their students.

That’s the attitude at West Elementary, where the ongoing pandemic scuttled this year’s plans for the annual fall trip. To make up for it, the sixth-grade teachers partnered with Grace Adventures and the school’s parent club to bring in “Camp 2U,” a traveling day camp. 

“During camp, kids have to learn to work together as a team in a lot of the activities we do,” teacher Julie Parish said. “It also allows them to encourage each other and be in a positive environment with each other outside of academics. So, for those kids who maybe struggle more with academics, this is an area where they can shine or feel a bit more comfortable around their classmates.” 

With Camp 2U, students got to spend two full school days last month playing and working together in the great outdoors. Nearby St. Pius X church offered up its parking lot and yard for the camp so that the kids could truly “get away” from school.

The activities ranged from personal challenges like a rock-climbing wall and archery to group games like nine-square and laser tag. Students also participated in several team-building activities, like an obstacle course and guiding blindfolded classmates, to help with teamwork and communication skills. 

Adele Gritter, slightly breathless from her climb up the rock wall, said the day camp “exceeded my expectations.”

“We’re learning how to encourage people when they get up there (to the top of the wall), and how to keep trying and not give up and reach goals that you set for yourself,” the sixth-grader said. “It’s a lot of fun, because we get to spend time with our friends and get away from our usual activities and get to do something different for a change.”

Another important aspect of camp is getting to know students from the other sixth-grade class at West, with whom her students wouldn’t regularly interact, Parish said. They made sure to include kids from both classes in every camp group. 

“Typically we do field trips with other schools in sixth grade — unfortunately we can’t right now, but we don’t want them to just know their own bubble next year when they get to the middle school,” Parish said. “Otherwise, that can be pretty darn hard when all the kids from all the elementary schools are coming together in one building (in seventh grade). It’s a lot for them to navigate.”

Student Austin Kwiatkowski agreed: “I’ve gotten to know some new kids in the other class a little better and I think it’s good to know them,” he said. “Because when new people come to a school for the first time, they may feel a little uncomfortable because they don’t have any friends, so it’s really cool to do this with them.”

Austin said he particularly enjoyed the obstacle course and trying archery for the first time.

“My friends and I like challenging ourselves a lot, so we timed ourselves running through the obstacle course and it was fun to see how fast we were,” he said. “I appreciate our teachers for letting us do this.” 

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Beth Heinen Bell
Beth Heinen Bell is a reporter (covering Cedar Springs, Grandville, Lowell and Rockford), editor, copy editor and social media manager. She is an award-winning journalist who got her start as the education reporter for the Grand Haven Tribune. A Calvin University graduate, she later returned to Calvin to help manage its national writing festival. Beth has also written for The Grand Rapids Press, Fox 17 and several West Michigan businesses and nonprofits. She is fascinated by the nuances of language, loves to travel and has strong feelings about the Oxford comma. Read Beth's full bio

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