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 6th Grade Camp Staff Share Memories of Childhood Visits

​​​For most people, 6th Grade Camp is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but some of the people who visited as children have come back and now get to spend nearly every week up at Camp Cuyamaca Outdoor School.

Several employees at the camp fondly remember going there years ago. San Diego County Office of Education has been connecting students with nature through its Outdoor Education program since 1946.

Susanne Beattie, a teacher at the camp, visited in 1978 with Twin Peaks Middle School. The experience helped her connect with her classmates.

“I was shy in school, but when I went to camp, it made me come out of my shell,” she said.

She enjoyed the experience so much that she later worked as a counselor at a summer camp and earned a degree in recreation.

“I think 6th Grade Camp definitely started it all,” she said.

She got a job at Camp Cuyamaca in 1990, but left a few years later to earn her teaching credential. She returned as a teacher there more than 10 years ago.

Cindy Gross, the health specialist at camp known as Mama Bear, has fond memories of going there in 1973 with Juarez-Lincoln Elementary School. She remembers a tug-o-war battle between students and staff, stories around the campfire, and lots of singing.

“Mostly, I remember having fun,” she said. “It was awesome.”

After years of working in law enforcement, she found her way back to camp 26 years ago through a friend who worked there. Her friend encouraged her to call in sick from work one day to visit camp when there was a job opening. She was so impressed with the experience that she gave notice at her previous job the next day and applied for the job at camp.

Since she attended camp 41 years ago, the biggest change has been the increased focus on academics and science, she said.

Susan Powell, another teacher at Camp Cuyamaca, spent a week there in 1970 with Highlands Elementary School.

“When I was a kid here, I never in a million years thought I would be working here,” she said.

Her favorite memory of camp was gazing at the stars at twilight.

She realized she wanted to work with children when she was in her early 20s. After a few years teaching in a classroom with no windows or natural light, she found the prospect of teaching outside very appealing. She started as a teacher at camp 25 years ago.

“I can’t even imagine being in a classroom now and being indoors,” she said. “This is such a privilege.”

She said she’s thrilled to see how much learning goes on at camp through hands-on experiences that are completely new to most of the students.

“I love it when their little light bulbs go on and they make connections,” she said.