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Camping with 8th graders

I can safely say that junior high was not the highlight of my life. Insecurities, shifting friendships and a whole new workload made for a rough two years.

However, when the opportunity arose to act as a cabin leader for 8th grade outdoor education, I jumped at the chance, but certainly not to relive junior high. Instead, the week at Calvin Crest gave me the chance to make it less miserable for someone else.

When seven senior high counselors, teachers Hallie Rojeski and Terry Richards and 50 8th graders arrived at Calvin Crest, Sept. 12, they announced the girls who would be sharing the Larkspur cabin with me. We soon became friends.

I learned quickly that attending Outdoor Ed as a camper, as I did in 8th grade, and attending as a cabin leader were two completely different experiences. As a cabin leader, I was constantly checking the time, making sure we were not late for lunch or class or chapel.

As a camper, I was frustrated by the many rules enforced on us by our teachers and staff. However, as a cabin leader, I had a new understanding for these rules. I told my cabin, who had all brought straighteners for their hair, that the devices were against the rules, and we would all embrace our frizzy hair together.

However, early each morning, hands wrapped around a mug of tea, I attended a counselors’ meeting with the other cabin leaders. When I returned to the cabin before breakfast, I returned to five very coiffed 8th graders. I asked suspiciously, “Did you use your straighteners while I was gone and couldn’t stop you?”

They looked guiltily at the floor.

Perhaps the highlight of the week came during Skit Night. After planning all week to perform a Twilight spoof, my girls decided their risk of being ridiculed was too high. Instead, I performed as the wicked witch counselor, and they stole my powers (by way of a red cabin leader binder).

The week had some low moments, from lack of sleep to a lackluster crazy-hair-day style, but overall, camp was a resounding success.

An unexpected benefit presented itself during break and KP times – time for the counselors to hang out and get to know each other better. After the week was over, we all went to Me-N-Eds and laughed for hours over crazy stories.

However, despite growing closer with my senior friends, I most appreciated getting to know my crazy, Twilight-loving and bedtime-observing girls. It was an amazing experience to become friends with them, and they continually exceeded my expectations.

On the last night, I warned them about what I call “half-dollar night,” a invitation from Richards and Rojeski to make a commitment to sexual purity until marriage. When they nervously asked what happened at half-dollar night, I simply told them it was important.

Back in the cabin after the event, I expected the conversation to be awkward and evasive, all of us avoiding eye contact and getting into bed as soon as possible. However, one of them said, “Can we talk about this?” That gave me the chance to tell them my feelings, and hopefully make an impact on their future decisions when feeling pressured about their sexuality.

It was and is a rewarding feeling to have formed meaningful relationships with the girls in my cabin, who, despite the straightener debacle, are amazing people. They have taught me as much – or more – than I have taught them.

For more information about Calvin Crest outdoor ed, check out Ants on a log.

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