Local News

Campout classroom is unique school tradition

—When Lake Country Elementary School principal Carla Ball hired a new third-grade teacher this year, she made one thing clear.

For four days a year, all third-graders camp out in the school’s front yard during school hours, learn real-life skills, see the creatures that live in their backyard and even spend one night in tents pitched on school grounds.

It’s called Camp Runamuck, a cherished school tradition a former third-grade teacher started more than 20 years ago.

Come rain, come shine, Camp Runamuck has endured at Lake Country and become a rite of passage for many younger students, who can’t wait for their turn when they see the tents coming up in April or May.

Tuesday, about 100 third-graders milled about on the school grounds, some doing activities in tents, others sitting around in groups while their teachers taught them about nature and how to stay safe in the water, the sun or a hiking trail.

Long-time third grade teacher Melinda Devlin has been a Camp Runamuck veteran for more than 20 years and has “loved it all,” she said -- from the crafts the kids do to the safety skills they learn to the overnight stay.

Since the camp started, the teachers have adapted the curriculum somewhat, she said. One of those is making bird feeders from pine cones after lathering them with peanut butter.

Harnessing the sun’s energy is something the kids learn every year through solar cooking demonstrations.

One of the things the kids will be making this week are “solar s’mores” and solar pizzas.

Over by Gitona Rogers’ class, several English muffins, covered with pizza sauce and grated cheese, sat in a cake box with a plastic cover, silently sizzling, as the sun rose higher in the sky.

Rogers has been a part of the campout for 21 years and said while she has many special memories, “just being able to sit with the kids around a camp fire and tell stories” is her favorite part.

Getting to know her students in an informal atmosphere not only brings them all closer but helps her get to know some of the shy ones a bit better.

“I wished they did this at the beginning of the school year,” she grinned.

While Rogers’ class was penciling some grid lines for a sketching project, the conversation turned to sliced apples and a loaf of bread, hanging on a tree, in separate bags.

The class project was figuring out which of the two would decompose the fastest.

Students weighed in with possible answers until Rogers asked them to think about which ingredient helps bread last longer.

Over the course of the week, students will be given a color chart for green shades and asked to find things in nature that correspond with the color chart; they also will be assigned their own little area and asked to locate any living creatures that live on it.

Student Eli Ming said he liked working as a group and “synergizing,” one of the seven leadership qualities students at the school learn as part of Stephen R. Covey’s book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”

Ball said while the students learn about safety and animals and animal habitats at the campout, teachers also stress leadership skills through discussions and peer learning.

While students may be learning those attributes in subtle ways, there was a lot of other everyday things they were absorbing -- like how Spanish moss is a flowering plant and not something dead as some might think.

Huddled in Jadyn Vonmerveldt’s tent, Vonmerveldt, Tan’Nya Walker and Grace Girdley talked about how they had been looking forward to the campout since they were little, and were jealous when their older siblings had their turn first.

Students are not required to stay overnight. Some have allergy problems and others cannot stay away from their parents, Rogers explained.

“Most of the time we have a good percentage of kids (who stay overnight,)” she said.

For others, the third-grade school camp is either their first taste of camping outdoors or one of the most memorable things they do in their school life, and high school seniors sometimes attest to that.

“It’s a good way to make memories,” Rogers added with a smile.