There it was. The bell was 5 feet above me, just out of my reach. As I heard my fellow counselors cheering behind me, “You’re almost there, Tiger Lily! You got this!” I mustered my final strength, took control of my shaking limbs and climbed the last few blocks of the climbing wall. I stretched out my hand and slapped the cowbell, the sound reverberating around the woods.
Welcome to Camp Wyman.
Just a few hours previous, I and 13 other new high school counselors had arrived at the camp been promptly overblown with information regarding rules, procedures and basically introduced to worse case scenarios for the week.
We were tested in various team-bonding exercises, and as we struggled through tasks testing our memorization skills, speed, agility and knowledge of our rights and lefts, we realized that in less than 24 hours we would each be personally responsible for six- to- seven sixth graders all day and night for the rest of the week.
I soon found out from sixth grade teacher Lisa Picker that not only would I be in charge of six campers myself, including a camper with severe allergies who carried an epipen, I would also be in charge of communicating information to the other female counselors from the camp leader since there were no adults near the female cabins. That job seriously scared me because I always had to be on the ready for someone to call me or knock on my door with news, which probably wouldn’t be good news.
When the campers arrived, we immediately went into our first activity session. At Camp Wyman there are six activity sessions- Orienteering, Living History, Teams Course, Aquatic Ecology, Fishing and Geocaching, and Rock and Crate Climbing.
Now, I want to make it perfectly clear that anyone who thinks Camp Wyman counselors are just skipping a week of school are completely incorrect. My experience was all about experiential learning and keeping up on my other classes too.
First, orienteering sadly did not come much easier to me than it did when I was a camper at Camp Wyman six years ago. However, my fellow counselor in my activity group senior David Kern (Riverman) and I were like children in a candy store when we both figured out how to use our compasses. Hiking through the woods later, we got completely lost, but it was so great to see my campers starting to work together to solve our problem.
Riverman and I got to role play as wagon masters in Living History as we learned about the pioneers’ journey across the United States and used math to total up our wagon weight to 1,000 pounds. An added bonus of making monkey bread, cinnamon sugar apples and soap made it one of my favorite activities.
During Teams Course, which involved our campers having to complete various tasks together using problem solving and communication skills, Riverman and I were not allowed to help the campers complete the tasks, leaving them one their own. My lip was probably bleeding from biting it so much in restraint, but the campers really grew closer together from this activity.
Aquatic Ecology was when I got to brush up on my knowledge of the water cycle, and the campers got to look for insects in the creek and play a relay game.
Geocaching for three- and- a- half hours was exhausting and confusing, our GPS was off, and my group ended up finding more caches than we were supposed to, but my campers were insistent on getting as many Principal Neat Notes as they possibly could.
Our last group activity session was Rock Climbing and Crate Climbing. This is when our campers were truly working as a team- they all cheered each other on, saying words of encouragement to those who were scared and congratulating everyone for what they had achieved.
For Riverman and me, it was amazing to see how far they had come in just a few days.
As a counselor, my job was to be encouraging, have positive energy, and work on adrenaline- and at times it could be tough. The days were long, the breaks were few, and the sleep was little and the hour break we had was usually spent laying on the couch in the counselor break room.
My cabin was Cabin Six, and it was a great cabin- I had a variety of children, but they all bonded so much while we were together, and I got to see the wild side of all of them. I will never forget them rolling under the bathroom stalls, asking me to fix the regurgitating toilets, getting to induct them as official night watchers by painting their faces with charcoal, being “rebels” and staying up until 10:30 p.m. when the curfew was 10 p.m., them making me friendship bracelets and writing me these sweet notes which they gave to me the last day.
Sharing a duplex cabin and living ten feet away from audio editor Page Kimzey (Bunnie) was definitely a highlight of my week. The number of times we walked into each other’s cabins (including Bunnie nearly scaring me to death by knocking on my door and asking for paper in the middle of the night) and spent time together as well as our frequent late night talks where we were nearly driven to insanity are moments I will cherish for the rest of my life.
As the counselors sang “Linger” on Thursday night, I reflected on my week and realized something very important. It had been such as humbling experience for me- I had seen highs and lows, stressful moments and moments I nearly died of laughter, but I had gotten to experience something that a lot of people would never experience.
Most people at the high school will not be Camp Wyman counselors, maybe because they just don’t want to or missing a week of high school seems not worth it.
Sure, making up a week’s worth of school is challenging, but I learned at Camp Wyman that we need to get out of our comfort zone and into our challenge zone. If we live our life without testing ourselves, without taking chances, we can never truly learn.
As Mark Twain said, “20 years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”
Believe me, by the end of the week, it was so hard to say goodbye to my new friends, but from the wise words of Winnie the Pooh, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
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