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 Watching Kids Thrive at 6th Grade Camp

By Karina Hoffman

After graduating with a degree in mass communication, I made an unconventional career move by accepting an internship with the San Diego County Office of Education Outdoor Education program.

A family friend working for the program told me about the internship. Working outdoors felt like a good fit for my active lifestyle, and my communications skills have been useful.

I had never worked with children before, and was nervous about it. But after six months, I felt empowered as I realized the impact outdoor education has on the life of a child.

The internship landed me at Cuyamaca Outdoor School, better known as 6th Grade Camp. There, 6th-graders have the opportunity to step away from their life routines and immerse themselves in nature. Over the course of a week, they live in cabins away from their parents, spend more time with their peers, and don’t have access to technology.

As a cabin leader, I helped students adjust to these changes and encouraged them to experience camp in a positive light. I often urged students to hang out with new people, play new games, and eat new foods to expand their world view. I frequently saw students grow in maturity over their five-day session. Many of them developed leadership skills, blossomed socially, and fostered a positive outlook.

I also witnessed how outdoor education increases students’ awareness of their relationship with nature. Some students had little or no experience in a natural setting before attending Cuyamaca Outdoor School.

Research shows outdoor education increases students’ ability to retain challenging science concepts, and I experienced this first hand. During my lessons, the students were never disengaged from the subject matter because they were literally immersed in it. I used the surrounding environment as a teaching tool to illustrate tough ideas and helped students to make quick connections between abstract ideas.

As an intern, I learned invaluable skills in leadership, curriculum development, and public speaking. I also had excellent coaching from senior staff members. Although the internship could be challenging, it was always fulfilling—especially when my students told me they wanted to grow up to be environmental scientists and take care of our planet.

What’s next for me? I am now a substitute program specialist at camp, and I plan to get a teaching credential to help fill San Diego’s need for educators.

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Celebrate the 70th anniversary of 6th Grade Camp by sharing your camp memories. There’s a good chance that some of you are camp alumni, or have friends, family members, and colleagues who grew up in San Diego and attended 6th Grade Camp. Share your photos, memories, and camp journals. What camp site did you attend? What camp village was your bunk in? What was your favorite camp craft or song? Did it snow during your time at camp? What wildlife did you see? Was it your first time away from home? Send your camp stories to communications@sdcoe.net.