A Sturgis Public Schools tradition continues this spring, after being interrupted in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last week and again this week, fifth-grade students went to Camp Fort Hill for a series on outdoor education.
Pam Keeslar, a fifth-grade teacher who coordinates the camp along with fellow teacher Nathan Schwartz, said camp began for Sturgis students in 1978. She confirmed that with camp manager Dave Ludders and Mike Reed, a now-retired teacher who had launched the camp that year.
According to Reed, fifth-graders initially attended camp for five days and four nights. More recently, camp was a three-day, two-night event. In 2021, an adjustment had to be made, said Mike Miller, principal at Eastwood Elementary. Pandemic restrictions prevented students from staying overnight, he said, and the camp was extended to five partial days.
Last week, four fifth-grade classes were at camp Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, until 12:45 p.m. During that time, they took part in various activities related to science and social studies curriculum, Miller said. Afterward, they returned to Eastwood, where the outdoor activities continued.
Activities include an egg drop, bottle rockets, water games and cooperative games such as “Skin the Snake” and “Predator/Prey.”
On Wednesday, students have a full day of camp from 9 a.m.-9 p.m. During the added evening hours, they participate in fishing, swimming, canoeing, archery and the climbing wall. District staff grill hamburgers and hot dogs for lunch and there’s pizza for dinner.
Miller said camp typically is possible through staff and parent help, but this year, due to the pandemic, parents are not allowed.
“It’s not that we don’t want to include parents,” he said. “We’re just limiting exposure so that it’s possible for all.”
Keeslar said despite some limits, she’s excited students are able to return to the camp. In early 2020, with the interruption of in-person instruction, students watched videos of fifth-grade teachers doing camp activities, Keeslar said.
Last week, teacher Melissa Gales was at camp with students for the first time.
“This has been fabulous,” Gales said. “At first, I was a little apprehensive, not knowing where everything is and being out here on our own. The area is way bigger than I thought. But the kids have been loving it. They’ve been trying things I didn’t think they would.”
An example, Gales said, is the “trust walk,” in which students walk blindfolded, with a partner, over obstacles.
Maddie Roberts, a student in Gales’ class, said she was disappointed she didn’t get to spend the night.
“The cabins would have been cool,” Roberts said.
On the other hand, she enjoyed walking around in nature, seeing the lake, the fish, and the pond and everything in it. She even saw a snake.
“It was in the fire pit and kept lunging at us, but it didn’t bite,” she said. “It kind of looked at the camera and posed.”
Roberts also looked forward to going into the bog and had brought old clothes for the occasion.
Eddie Garcia also enjoyed camp.
“By far, this place has been really great,” he said. “I recommend kids to come here and try new activities. It’s the best. It’s really wonderful.”
Some things Garcia learned at camp are to “leave nature in nature,” don’t run ahead, to be respectful and maintain proper manners.
Karson McCallum said it was fun getting out and doing new activities beyond typical classroom work. He balanced on a wire, played a camouflage game and went to the frog pond, where he saw spiders, he said.
Juliet Ramirez Pelham, a fifth-grader in Ashley Mostrom’s class, got to experience touching bugs. Like McCallum, she enjoyed the traverse wire and looked forward to rock-climbing.