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 8th Graders Help Mentor Younger Kids at 6th Grade Camp

Dozens of middle-school students are getting a chance this year to return to 6th Grade Camp while mentoring younger students as part of the junior counselor program at Camp Cuyamaca.

The older students help run activities and experiments, perform at group events and serve as mentors.

“For many of them, it’s their first leadership opportunity, and they’re so proud of themselves,” said Greg Schuett, principal of the camp outside of Descanso in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. The camp is part of San Diego County Office of Education’s Outdoor Education program.

The idea to bring 8th graders back to camp as junior counselors came from a student from La Mesa who attended camp in 6th grade. She was among the first group of junior counselors in the spring of 2010.

Since then, it has grown from about 20 junior counselors to about 100 this year. That growth has been largely through the help of corporate sponsors.

This year, the Ford Motor Company Fund in partnership with the San Diego County Ford Dealers is sponsoring the program for 100 students. The scholarships cover half of the cost of the week-long trip, which includes food and board.

Before that, the Sempra Energy Foundation paid for the older students to attend camp as part of its Environmental Champions Awards initiative.

The 8th graders come to the camp the same week as the 6th graders from their school.

The junior counselors learn that effective leaders can be nice and caring, said Christina Bui, a student from Valley Middle School in Carlsbad.

 “You don’t have to yell and be bossy to be a leader,” she said.

The interactions are good for the younger children as well as the older ones, Schuett said.

“By observing the junior counselors as role models, it gives the 6th graders something to work toward if they want to experience Camp Cuyamaca again in two years,” he said.

Some of the 8th graders are eagerly returning to the camp, while others who weren’t able to attend as 6th graders are seeing it for the first time.

“When I went to 6th grade camp, I saw the awesome 8th graders,” said Carter Peterson, another junior counselor from Valley. “I thought it would be really cool to be back and be that awesome 8th grader.”

Carter said his favorite experience at camp was being able to solve problems on his own. He said he learned more about self-control and respect while there.

An outdoor education program specialist or camp instructor coaches the junior counselors and meets with them twice a day to review strategies for working with and mentoring the 6th graders, and to discuss possible solutions to issues that arise at camp.

The program encourages civic-mindedness in the older students, said Tina Chin, executive director of SDCOE’s outdoor education program. They can earn 40 hours of community service credit for participating.

“We really encourage them to take that mindset back to their community,” Chin said.