In its 12th year, the YMCA’s partnership with the Francis M. Leahy School in Lawrence has allowed students to explore nature through our Outdoor Education program held at YMCA Camp Otter in Salem, New Hampshire, on Captain’s Pond. This program offers youth the chance to explore the woods while learning about environmental science, working in teams, and learning new skills, such as safety around water. They enjoyed boating and canoeing, ropes course challenges, arts and crafts, and science experiments.
“All students in Leahy School’s fourth grade have this opportunity. At the beginning of the school year, we talk about it. We try to get the students excited about the camp so they have something to look forward to at the end of the school year. For nearly all children, this is their first time at camp. They ask: “What’s it going to be like? Are there going to be bears?” said teacher Carolyn Driscoll, who has been part of this program since its inception. Their regular school days are in a brick building built in 1921 with a playground on a cement slab. Excitement builds all year long for this 3-day adventure each May.
Physical education is a big part of the experience. Students are equipped with pedometers and they track their daily steps. There are camp t-shirts awarded as prizes for the most steps, both individually and in cabin teams. “We are encouraging healthy habits. The kids loved the competition and my class won! I’m competitive and kept the kids focused on their steps!” Carolyn said. Students gather around the Camp Council Ring at the beginning and end of each day and sing camp songs. This is also where students are awarded for the highest number of steps taken each day.
A highlight of the trip was an A to Z Scavenger Hunt, where students worked with a partner to find different objects around Camp Otter that started with each letter of the alphabet.
“For students to see us (their teachers) in a different light, not in the structured environment of the classroom, helped us form even stronger bonds. Even more than while in the classroom. This is a great partnership that we have with the YMCA. Our students will remember this experience for the rest of their lives. We have found that while the experience is rewarding for all of our students, it is very rewarding for the children who may have difficulty paying attention in class. These students are able to move about and explore freely at Camp Otter. We find that being exposed to learning outside of the structured classroom setting has an enormous impact on them that they will always remember.”
This year the Y awarded two Leahy School students who participated in this Environmental Education program a week of Camp Otter this summer. Selected by their teachers were a set of twins, who faced many challenges and adversity this school year. They are being raised by their father with assistance from their grandmother after their mother passed of health problems. “Faced with courage and strength both of these fourth graders are leaders in our school community. During our time at Camp Otter, they stood out to us. They thoroughly enjoyed the experience and working as team members and encouraged their team members each day at camp,” Carolyn said. “We knew they would appreciate the opportunity. They are lovely children from a lovely family. I know they will participate in everything that Camp Otter offers.”