Walden West: A 20-plus Year Village Tradition


Each Spring our 5th graders return from Walden West Science Camp full of stories of new experiences, while our 4th graders look on and listen in anticipation of their own turn as they begin to plan and prepare to launch their fundraising efforts.

A rite of passage since the inception of Village, 5th grade science camp is a tradition that has been fully supported and made possible by the teachers and the parents.

Teacher Lori can speak to many memories of her time spent at science camp with past generations of Villagers, and even recalls meeting Raven, aka Teacher Sherry, who she then recruited to come teach at Village! Raven is Sherry’s Walden West Nature Name. It is customary for all staff and participants to go only by their self-selected Nature Names at camp — just one example of how they pay tribute to the living world around them.

Passionate about nature, Raven enjoyed instilling a love of nature with her students while at Village. Although she has retired as a classroom teacher, her love for the outdoors and for Village still intersect once a year at Walden West where she volunteers as a field instructor during the week that Village is there for camp. This year was no exception!

Raven and other experienced naturalists spent the week with the kids, teaching science standards through hands-on learning while exposing them to new social settings and enrichment experiences and helping them explore different environments. The students explored an outdoor classroom and stayed in cabins overnight, during this 4-night, 5-day program that provides the kids with a sense of personal responsibility, independence, and understanding of the natural world around them.

Committed to the experience, all 4th/5th grade Village teachers take a week away from their lives and families to spend this time with our 5th graders at camp, to be there to support them in this exciting, and sometimes challenging, experience.

“The kids gain a much deeper appreciation for Mother Nature and a broader understanding of science concepts”, says Eagle (aka: 4th/5th grade teacher Andy). “They learn so many things — biology, astronomy, the water cycle, conservation and much, much more! And it’s such an opportunity for growth and independence.”

The kids gain “a growth and independence that comes from having the space and freedom to realize they can rely on themselves and their peers,” says Starfish (aka: 4th/5th grade teacher Michele). “It’s a very bonding experience.”

This is “an experience that is an accumulation of so many things they’ve learned in the classroom that they now get to experience in the field,” says Frog (aks: 4th/5th grade teacher Jill). “It’s such a great way to wrap up and celebrate their elementary school experience, together with their peers, as they prepare to move on to middle school.”

Some of our 5th graders’ favorite things from this year’s science camp were the night hike, all-day hike, and creek hike, the food, bonding with their cabin mates, making new friends, field class, singing songs, the dance party, astronomy night, the campfire, cabin inspection (where they get to earn points to earn a warm shower with fun and creative cabin displays), being hopper (food server), and just “everything” some of them said!

Like many Village experiences, science camp is a privilege, one not all 5th graders get to have, so we are lucky. It’s the commitment from the teachers and the financial support from the families and PTA Board that make science camp a reality.

So, how much does it cost to take send our 5th graders to Science Camp? This year’s budget was $340 per kid and $200 per teacher, for a total of $12,840. The Annual Giving donation for 5th grade includes $120 that is allocated toward science camp. With 100% of Annual Giving participation, this would cover about a third of the cost. Added to that is whatever amount the students raise each year. This year, they raised $5,097 (about 40% of the cost). Any remaining amount that is not covered by 5th grade Annual Giving contributions and 5th grade fundraising is covered by the PTA.

Fifth grade science camp fundraising efforts are led by a group of parent volunteers. Working alongside the students, they plan and execute different fundraisers. This year’s group of parent volunteers were Stephanie B., Lana R., Bahar S., and Kristy W. Stephanie said their team started by outlining with the 5th graders (4th graders at the time) what they wanted to do. Then they brainstormed all ideas, prioritized those ideas, assigned student leaders and selected dates. Their goal — to raise all the funds necessary to send their entire grade level to camp!

“It’s really important for the kids to participate in the fundraising efforts because they get a chance at leadership, planning, creating and sending communication,” says parent volunteer Stephanie B. “It builds a sense of anticipation and excitement about school and a sense of accomplishment.”

In addition to selling their wares at the Maker Faire in April (4th graders donated a percentage of their sales to Village and a percentage to science camp), and hosting the Gina & the Tonics concert in May (A very special thank you to Teacher Gina and her band!), this year’s 5th graders also washed dishes at the camping trip, coordinated two farmer’s markets, a pizza and bake sale at the Valentine’s Dance, a Valentine’s Day bake sale, morning coffee sales, book and toy sales and more!

Stephanie says the kids’ ideas are amazing, and “they remember details much better than I do,” she laughed. “They are enthusiastic and willing to work. It’s a fun group bonding.”

Like Stephanie B., fellow parent volunteer Kristy W. says she also enjoyed the kids’ enthusiasm and listening to them work out the planning and logistics.

And now, it’s that time of year when the torch is passed. Thank you to our group of outgoing 5th grade fundraising volunteers and to our incoming 4th grade parents, Alexis D., Jess F., Shannon H., and Talia S., who will be stepping into the role for next year’s 5th graders.

Stephanie shared some simple words of wisdom: “Get going!” she says. “Have the children do the work — e-mails, counting money, leading. If you are working a lot, then the parent is working too much. And, most of all, have fun with them!”

And when it comes to the letting the kids do the work, Kristy W. wholeheartedly agrees, “It’s not about the money, it’s about the experience. The more experience the better!”

Many thanks to all the teachers, staff (especially Veronica, who had to do the pre-camp lice check), 5th grade families, parent volunteers, and the community, who generously support the fundraisers, that make science camp happen year after year!


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