Camp has long been a defining part of the Tree of Life International School experience. Traditionally, the older students go to camp Monday through Wednesday and prepare for leading camp for the younger students who arrive on Wednesday through Friday. The youngest kids, too young to be away from home, typically have some special activities at the school. We had a camp like this in 2020 before COVID shut us down. The challenge for 2021 was whether we could safely meet some of the same goals without hosting a super spreader event. Our solution was to reduce the size of the groups and select locales where bubbles could be maintained.
In Section C we created groups by Homeroom level. Seniors A & B traveled together to Monteverde. Juniors 2 A & B traveled together to Santa Teresa. Juniors 1 A & B replaced the Seniors in Monteverde. The Monteverde groups took advantage of the natural attractions and had activities in the cloud forest as well as at the hotel. Juniors 2 were at a Nature preserve and had a lot of volunteer work that related to their Geography project.
Alicia, Mario, Christian and I traveled with the Seniors to Monteverde. We stayed at Hotel Cipreses, just outside of town, making it a quiet place for our group to relax together. Given that the usual goal of Seniors camp, preparing to lead the younger kids, wasn’t appropriate for this year, we decided to focus on how students could apply leadership skills and the 7 Habits as they finish their high school careers and move on to college.
We also wanted students to become aware of some of the negative side effects of the isolation of COVID and have them think about how community can be built and can help us during difficult times. As always, we want our students to feel connected to nature, so including outdoor activities was a key part of the plan. Camp is also supposed to be a place to leave your comfort zone and try activities that might be scary, or make you nervous, while surrounded by friends and teachers who will keep you safe.
We had three nature based activities for the seniors, a stop at a Butterfly/Insect farm, a night hike in the cloud forest, and a hike over Hanging Bridges. Each of these activities included opportunities to stretch outside of one’s comfort zone. The insects at the butterfly farm included tarantulas and scorpions, students were able to get up close with them and learn about them. Walking in the forest at night was scary for some, while others dealt with a fear of heights on the Hanging Bridges. Students have reported being proud of their ability to complete an activity despite being outside of their comfort zone.
At the beginning of each day, students chose whether to meditate, stretch, or go for a jog. Each is a different way to mindfully begin a day. For some students, it was their first time trying meditation and they reflected that it gave them a good grounding for the day. Other students commented that they hadn’t jogged, or stretched since before COVID and they were a little out of practice, so this was a reminder that starting a day with these activities can improve your outlook and energy for the day.
The Leadership and 7-Habits activities were the ones that were most different from prior camps. There was no competition for who would be the leaders when the little kids arrived, and there were no activities to learn how to lead little kids through. So these activities focused on the Seniors themselves. There were some challenges to complete while blindfolded, emphasizing the importance of communication in leadership, and the fact that all members of the group can contribute by communicating clearly. The 7-Habits activity asked the students to apply the 7 Habits to a problem in a future office, or at school, or in their lives in general. Two of the three groups created a skit that Mario filmed. We may share those films in future 7 Habits training events.
We also challenged students to break out of their immediate friend groups and get to know other students in the Seniors homerooms. Because of COVID there is less mingling and more closed groups. This has led to homerooms that do not know each other as well as previous classes. We randomized seating at meals and students found that they could find things in common with people they previously didn’t know well.
The Seniors’ reactions were mostly positive. Some have suggested that a separate camp focusing on their future expectations might be a good addition to the TOLIS experience. Seniors acknowledged the positive outcomes of the traditional camp, in that the whole school gets to know each other and there is more school unity built.
But they also state that they felt there were many personal benefits of the Senior focused camp in helping them prepare for the future when they will be on their own at university or other endeavours.
Text by Lisa Bickford
Photographies by Alicia Nieva