On Monday April 23rd, around 200 students from the Diocese of San Diego arrived at YMCA Camp Marston in Julian. YMCA Camp Marston is the oldest organized youth camp in San Diego County and has been servicing children and families for the past 90 years. The camp is situated on 236 acres of breathtaking mountain land with vast amounts of pine trees, hiking trails, and wildlife – all awaiting the arrival of students from St. Didacus and the other schools.
The Sixth Graders at St. Didacus Parish School spilled out of the parent drivers’ vehicles with eager anticipation of the week ahead. They were introduced to their friendly camp counselors, while they pulled along their suitcases, sleeping bags, and pillows up the dusty paths to their cabins. After lunch, students played sports, introduced themselves to 6th graders from other schools, and climbed the rock wall structure. The remainder of the first day was filled with games, science experiments, food conservation awareness, and skits performed by the camp counselors.
Camp Marston’s daily activities, for the remainder of the week, were developed to cover many of the Common Core and Next Gen Standards. During the hikes, students learned about California fault lines, the water cycle, and renewable and nonrenewable resources. Students were able to interact with animals both on the YMCA Raintree ranch and in their natural habitat during hikes. The tree class taught students about photosynthesis, compared trees that were native to California, and offered the students the chance to use all five senses, including actually licking a tree to get to understand this valuable resource. Students participated in archery, candle making, and even conquered their fears of heights, while scaling a 42-foot climbing wall.
Prior to coming to Camp Marston, the 6th graders at St. Didacus Parish School had read the novel Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. By reading this book, they learned basic survival skills and how the protagonist, Brian Robeson, is able to search for food, build a shelter and make fire to survive the Canadian wilderness. When the 6th graders were asked to find materials in the woods to build their own shelters, they used their prior knowledge from the novel and the suggestions of the camp counselor to build a shelter that could withstand rain, strong winds and earthquakes.
On Thursday night, the 6th graders performed skits with the children in their cabins. It was great to see so many 11- and 12-year-olds break out of their comfort zone to stand on a stage and perform for their peers. As the final night at camp came to a close, the 6th graders stood out on a candle-lit lawn and shared the new memories they made from this wonderful experience to learn outside of the normal classroom setting. It is astonishing to see how much the students at St. Didacus grew up in just one week, away from the comforts of home and their families.