From the moment we arrived at Tree of Life on Monday morning, I could tell that this year’s camp experience was going to be different. Many of us had returned to physical classes over a year ago, and we discovered that the pandemic had taken away much of what camp fosters in our community: resilience, initiative, cooperation and empathy. The grade-level camps last year held us over, but returning to a closer version of the traditional TOLIS camp pushed us ahead.
I was prepared to be another hand on deck upon arrival, but I was not prepared for the surprise and delight of seeing my students in JR1 offer themselves as more hands without any prompting. Before I could think about how to get the bags to the buses, they were taking them. When it came time to go, they modeled patience and attentiveness for the younger students watching. The different split in ages at camp this year left JR1 as the oldest, the role models, and they rose to the challenge with smiles and confidence.
This mentor relationship continued to develop throughout the camp. Groups included students of all age levels, and older students took the lead on clarifying for and encouraging newer camp-goers. At meal times, I’m not quite sure who was a role model for who, because I witnessed a second grader wash at least forty hot chocolate mugs.
Camp activities create a sense of camaraderie that promotes these positive leadership examples, resulting in everything from facing physical fears to resolving emotional conflicts.
When we arrived at the Mas X Menos on Wednesday, I heard a younger student greet his parents by yelling, “These were the best days of my life!” I don’t doubt that as a community, we all—peers, fellow students, teachers, and families—played a part in that.
Now that the experience is behind us, we have the opportunity to reflect on what we want to take away. Personally, I hope my students in JR1 remember how naturally they became leaders when it fell to them, and I hope the students in EL2 and EL3 recall those positive examples when it’s their turn.
Text by Kelsey Jiménez
Photographs by Leandro Natale