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
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
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
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
“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
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.