Every year, sophomores, juniors, and seniors at CVHS have the opportunity to become counselors at Exploring New Horizons outdoor school, a five-day trip with students and teachers from our local middle schools. During the week, counselors take care of a group of sixth-graders, being their primary caretaker while modeling and encouraging good behavior and working around the clock to make outdoor school a successful experience.
Mia Babasyan had a co-counselor and a group of eight boys, while Fiona Richter took care of seven girls. These two cabins formed a trail group and spent their days together for a week. The counselors describe their experiences below.
Monday: arrivals, introductions and a campfire
By Mia Babasyan
Bags packed and buses leaving, students were both nervous and excited to spend a week away from home. Upon our arrival, everyone went to an opening ceremony and was assigned their cabin groups. My friend and I were co-councelors assigned to a boys’ cabin. We all settled into our cabins and played some games to remember each other’s names.
After an intro hike and counselor tour of the camp, we went to a well-needed dinner. Camp Loma Mar is known for its food, and everyone was looking forward to their first meal of the week. I was pleasantly surprised with every breakfast and dinner the cooks provided. The naturalists were very straightforward about cutting back on our food waste. It was a challenge for over 100 people to have no leftovers.
After dinner, we attended our night time activity, a town hall meeting. The kids were assigned a role and discussed an issue that was affecting the community. They then collaborated and shared their opinions on the issue based on their assigned roles. We ended the first day with a campfire, listening to stories and learning new songs to sing for the rest of the week.
Tuesday: hiking, stargazing and Dr. Seuss
By Fiona Richter
On Tuesday morning, my girls were much more excited about breakfast than hiking in the oaks. Before marching off into the wilderness, we went to the camp garden where we planted seeds and picked organic vegetables to make a delicious salad. We also fed and petted chickens. Mia and I then played a game with the kids until it was time for them to go on a solo hike.
On the solo hike, there are little cards placed along the trail with tasks for the hikers to do, such as putting ash from a burnt tree on your face, visualizing your own roots, stem, and branches, or lying down on the ground to see the world from a leaf’s perspective. Most of the kids followed the instructions. It was interesting to see throughout the week how their behavior was affected by our own. Lunch was delicious, consisting of pita bread with a variety of different toppings, as was the dinner after recreation and cabin time and our counselor meeting.
The night hike was our evening activity on Tuesday, one of my favorite adventures of the week. There was a lot of mumbling and grumbling from the kids when they were told to turn off their flashlights, but we made sure to explain to them that they wouldn’t be able to see the amazing constellations or the nearly-full moon rise if they kept them on. We were overtaken with serenity as we intently listened to a deer chewing grass far away from us, and nocturnal birds calling out to their mates, both breaking the deep silence of a night in the lonely woods. It was a very different atmosphere from a normal night in Castro Valley, and as the kids acknowledged the constellations and heard our naturalist reading Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, a lot of them felt more at peace with nature than they ever had before.
Wednesday: face painting, wildlife and the Barnyard Boogie
By Mia Babasyan
Bright and early, the kids and counselors were all feeling a little tired and missing home. Our daytime activity was hiking in the redwoods. It was my favorite hike because the weather was perfect and the trees were fascinating. We painted our faces with mud from the rocks and skipped stones on the creek. Our naturalist, Ginger, showed us the birds we were hearing and taught us about lizards hiding underneath rocks.
That night was the famous barnyard boogie. Kids and counselors dressed up in crazy outfits, or at least wore their sweatshirts backwards. While everyone was taught new dance moves, I learned that singing a banana slug song and dancing with 11-year-olds can actually be really fun. Like every other night, we ended with the campfire with smiles and slightly sore feet. Tomorrow was going to be our last full day, and we all realized how fast a week flies by.
Thursday: Pescadero, Pebble Beach and Skit Night
By Fiona Richter
Though some of us were aching from having slept on the thin mattresses, not a single negative word left the mouths of our kids as we rode a yellow school bus to the Pescadero State Beach. The kids had fun exploring the estuary and tracking animals and humans on the beach. We even held a tiny snake they spotted on the trail. Though tidepooling was not possible that day because of high tides, we all got to climb over rocks and find our way to Pebble Beach, where the kids showered each other with little rocks.
The real highlight of Thursday, however, was skit night, where our cabins got to perform the skits they’d been working on all week. My girls wrote their skit all by themselves, and they did well on stage, as did all the other groups. For us counselors, it was really a night of pride in our kids, whom we’d come to love during that short week. We got to express our gratitude and appreciation in a short speech after the performances, and I almost cried when one of my campers shouted “We love you, Molder!” (Molder was my nature name) after I’d finished talking.
That night’s campfire was a ceremony of mixed emotions, as all were happy to go home, yet sad to be leaving. What a strange affliction it is to have become fond of one life and yet yearn for another.
Friday: mixed emotions, thank yous and farewells
By Mia Babasyan
Everyone finished packing in the morning and made sure their cabin was clean before leaving for breakfast. My group of boys had mixed emotions about leaving, but all reflected on the adventurous week they had. We went on a second trip to the garden and sat in a circle sharing what we were grateful for. Many of the kids said their families, others their education and the opportunity to go to outdoor school. Afterwards was a goodbye ceremony and the counselors got cards and a loud thank you.
We then loaded up the van with bags and ate grilled cheese sandwiches. Everyone said goodbye and hopped on the bus back to Castro Valley. Parents were waiting and everyone scrambled to grab their bags and head home. I thought back on the week about how amazing the experience was. I learned so much about the environment, but also how to be responsible and patient. When I asked my group what they thought of outdoor school, one said it was one of the best weeks of his life. I couldn’t have agreed more.
By Fiona Richter
Outdoor school was an overwhelmingly amazing experience for the both of us, and we’re glad we got to go this year. Not only did we forge bonds with our sixth graders, but we also became close with all the other counselors who shared this crazy and fun adventure.
With the forests as our classrooms and the children as our teachers, there was so much to learn, be it nature facts, leadership skills, or simply how to enjoy the world around us.
Counselors are paid nothing, as one kid said, “not because they are worthless but because they are priceless,” and what we could never put a price tag on are the memories we made, irreplaceable and forever cherished.