“Why is fifth grade the only grade that gets to go to camp?” a parent asks me as we walk with campers in tow towards the dining hall. We had just spent an afternoon mucking at the camp pond’s edge searching for “macro organisms,” water spiders, leaches, and an occasional dragon fly nymph. Everyone, students, parents and teachers alike, left the waterfront sweaty, dirty, and smiling.
“Good question,” I answer.
This is my 13th year attending “camp” with fifth graders as a teacher. I have never been asked this question, “Why fifth graders?”
I think fifth graders are at a “crossroads,” beginning the journey from youth to adulthood… Camp begins their “Coming of Age” story of self awareness, discovery, and introspection. As I walked through the days of camp I heard more students proclaim “This is my first time… to fish, to canoe, to stay away from home without family.” I think first times are moments that humans never forget, cherish. We remember them as we reflect on that journey we all take from youth to adult.
I also think fifth grade camp is about fostering decision making in students, another component to that journey from youth to adult. I witnessed a student, a young heroine, face difficult decisions at the coveted “campfire,” a special event the last night of camp where students perform skits, enjoy stories, sing songs, and eat S’MORES! My heart broke as I took aside this student before the campfire to let her know that she could not have a s’more. I showed her the package and explained that s’mores had ingredients that she was allergic to. I told her I had an alternative snack that would replace the “s’more” as her tears flowed. After a few minutes, she squared her shoulders and said, “okay,” walked away to join her cabin mates as the “talent show” portion of the campfire was about to begin.
The time came when that student and her friends walked on the stage to perform their skit. A skit that would earn them the oh-so-sweet treat, a S’MORE! I sat at the back edge of the campfire, clapping loudly as the group exited the stage toward the beckoning parent offering their prize. A couple of minutes later, someone sat next to me… and whispered, “Why can’t I have one?” Her question wasn’t to me but herself. I sat silent. She sat silent.
“Girls, you want a s’more?” a parent asked us as she walked by. We both say “No, thank you,” and the parent wandered off unaware of the weight that simple question put on the youth’s shoulders beside me.
“You can have one, if you want. I don’t mind.” the young heroine beside me whispered.
I turned to her and answered, “I have not had a s’more at camp since I started coming with fifth graders.”
“Why, are you allergic?”
“No, but I don’t process sugar right so I can’t eat food like that.” My response weighs heavy on my lips. She did not leave my side the rest of the campfire. We sat mostly in silence, laughing and clapping… Enjoying the campfire and almost all of its parts.
This year my view of fifth grade camp changed. The catalyst for this change was a simple question. “Why fifth graders?” Camp is about taking that first step from youth to adulthood… A coming of age event to mark the start of a remarkable journey.