It's all about the journey

September 01, 2023
April Anderson slowly sinks into the swimming pool as her boat capsizes June 15, 2023, at Camp Eastman in Nauvoo, Illinois.

April Anderson slowly sinks into the swimming pool as her boat capsizes June 15, 2023, at Camp Eastman in Nauvoo, Illinois.

BCSD summer programs offer new experiences to Burlington students.

NAUVOO, Ill. — April Anderson paddled furiously as she and her Camp Journey co-counselors raced to be the first to reach the other end of the pool at Camp Eastman in Nauvoo, Illinois.

With each stroke of her paddle, Anderson’s cardboard vessel propelled forward.

Then sideways.

Then down.

Despite the effort, hard work and duct tape her team of students had put into waterproofing the boat, it was taking on water, pitching Anderson into the cool, clear depths below. Her paddle now useless, Anderson trudged on, tugging the waterlogged vessel behind her.

As the captains went down, the students who had crafted the boats stood along the pool’s edge, urging them to keep going.

While not a single craft made it as far as halfway across the pool before at least partially sinking, the counselors managed to get each and every boat to the other side.

Very few boats have made it across the pool in what has become a last-day tradition for Camp Journey, and that’s OK, because like most everything at the two-week-long summer camp, the boat activity’s educational value is in the journey, not the destination.

“We learn other people’s strategies,” said Zaleigha Larson. “We took everybody’s ideas, put them together and tried to get along with each other.”

Larson was one of about 70 Burlington sixth- through eighth-graders participating in the camp this year.

Spots at Camp Journey are limited, so participation relies largely on teacher referrals.

“We ask the teachers at Ed Stone and Aldo who they think would benefit from leadership opportunities maybe that they don’t always get at school but they see something within those kids that we can capitalize on here,” said Michael Carper, instructional coach and summer program coordinator.

Camp Journey is far from your typical summer school program. As its name implies, it’s a summer camp, but with a twist.

The program’s focus is on the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” a step-by-step framework to adapt and achieve personal effectiveness in all areas of life. The “7 Habits” are a cornerstone of the Leader in Me curricula at both Aldo Leopold Intermediate and Edward Stone Middle schools.

“We incorporate those into everything we do and then it becomes kind of a thread of our conversations that we have with the kids,” Carper said. “We do it away from school so it doesn’t have a school feel, and what we see, especially the second week, they really start to come together as a group. We mix the groups up on purpose so it’s not all their best friends, and maybe by the end of the week they’ll be friends with people they didn’t expect they would be.”

Camper Ray’Meair Fredricks said he especially enjoys the diverse opportunities offered at the camp and that kids can feel safe while getting outside of their comfort zone.

“I think it’s a really good opportunity for children,” Fredricks said. “This gave me the opportunity to open up to more people I wouldn’t normally talk to.”

Each morning of the camp, campers gather in teams to do their morning cheer, with each team having come up with their own.

After the morning cheer, teams spread out across Camp Eastman to discuss the habits and how they could be applied to real-life scenarios. After that comes a team-building challenge requiring skills like collaboration, conflict resolution and critical thinking.

“(The first week of camp), we had a little race track opportunity which was like a STEM activity with physics where they were given challenges to accomplish as a team,” Carper said.

Another challenge used tie-dye to emphasize Habit #2: Begin with the end in mind. Instructional coach Melissa Nelson-Chiprez showed students how to create different tie-dye patterns before the campers set off to do their own. The students were to think about the pattern they wanted to create and then use rubber bands and dye to create those patterns accordingly.

While the campers dyed their shirts, Carper prepared himself for yet another of Camp Journey’s traditions. After each team finished their dye jobs, campers filled a cup with a dye the color of their choosing and splattered them onto Carper.

“Every year, they dump all the tie-dye on me,” Carper said with a laugh. “I figure I have to be able to take it if I’m the one that gives them the grief the rest of the time.”

The afternoons are for structured free time, and campers are able to choose between activities such as fishing, kayaking and swimming.

“My goal at this camp is if there’s a kid who says I’m not getting on a boat, I get them out on a boat and they realize oh my gosh, this is so much fun, and then when you see them sign up for it in the afternoon and they’re actually out there kayaking on their own, that’s a great feeling,” Carper said.

One of those kids was Larsen, who went kayaking for the first time this summer.

“It was OK,” she said with a laugh and a huge grin.

Inspiring the next generation of educators

It’s not just the campers who have fun. Camp Journey is something the counselors and the high school helpers look forward to each year.

“Both summer school opportunities that I get to be a part of I’m very proud of because we are building Grayhounds from the bottom up all summer long and showing support for these kids,” Carper said, referring to Camp Journey and the elementary summer school program that follows. “It’s all about giving these kids opportunities they might not otherwise have, and it’s all about building relationships with these guys.”

The elementary summer school program is for students who have finished kindergarten through fourth grade and takes place at North Hill Elementary School.

There are a couple of high schoolers who help out with lifeguarding at Camp Journey, and about a dozen who help with the elementary summer program.

“My favorite part about that program is I get high schoolers to come in and I buddy a high schooler up with each teacher,” Carper said. “We’re trying to grow our own teachers to try to get these high schoolers who maybe weren’t interested in education before that maybe they realize they like this.”

The strategy appears to be working.

Julia Wegler, who has been a summer school helper for the past three years, said she wants to become a teacher because she likes working with the kids in the program. Annika Cook, who now is a long-term Spanish substitute at Burlington High School, also was a summer school helper, as was elementary STEM teacher Jessica Dow.

“To see them now in education is a very rewarding feeling,” Carper said. “So slowly I think it’s working that we’re building our own.”