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 Week of Nature 2015: 15 Students Win Scholarships for Camp

A group of 15 fourth- and fifth-graders will get scholarships next year to attend Cuyamaca Outdoor School because of their creative and well-written essays about a positive experience they’ve had outdoors and what they hope to learn at the school.

The 15 winning essays were selected from more than 2,000 that were written as part of the VanArsdale Essay Contest. The scholarships are paid for with money endowed by the late William E. VanArsdale, past director of SDCOE's Outdoor Education program.

To celebrate nature, outdoor education and these creative students, we're going to feature three of their essays each day this week. Here are the first three:


Luna Bellisario
Sunset Hills Elementary School
Poway Unified School District

Sploosh!  Cool water rushed along my face as I dove into the lake.  I steadily swam and swam across.  Each time I went under I had a feeling of relief and calmness.  I looked under me and saw deep blue water fade into light green as tiny white fish darted in and out of the beams of light.  My mind was completely calm in water paradise.  I saw the brown and red bank on the other side and knew I was getting closer.  My feet finally touched the ground and the water became clear again.  Small, colorful pebbles and soft brown moss greeted me as I stepped on to the bank.  I sat down and looked up at the clear blue sky.  The sun warmed my skin and a feeling of joy rushed through my body.  Small seashells moved back and forth on my toes and the water slowly rippled over my feet.  A red and green hummingbird flitted around my face and landed on a nearby flower.  I was refreshed and ready for the beautiful journey back across the lake.

I am excited to go to sixth grade camp because I love being around nature and learning more about the wonders of nature.  I feel overjoyed, happy, and confident when I am around it.  I am also very excited to be able to hang out with my friends while enjoying what I love and seeing beautiful scenery.

While I am at camp I think I will learn many things and important life lessons.  I will learn how to have good teamwork and cooperate with my friends and classmates.  Also, I will learn how to take care of myself without my parents and be responsible when they aren't around.  In addition, I will learn about nature and my surroundings and see amazing scenery.

After learning these things at camp, I think I will be changed a lot.  I will be more aware of my surroundings and the wonders of nature.  I will also know how to have great teamwork and take care of myself without my parents.  I will want to do more for nature and make sure I always keep it clean.

After camp, I will want to clean up my school, community, and neighborhood so it is a better place.  I will try to ride my bike and carpool more so nature can always be beautiful.  I could also try to prevent parks and areas of land from being replaced by buildings so other people can enjoy all the amazing works of nature.


Hannah Chen
Stone Ranch Elementary
Poway Unified School District

When I look into a mirror, all I see is a stereotypical Chinese city girl.  My dark hair is pulled back in a tight ponytail, and my hands are nearly perfectly smooth.  If someone kicked me out of my home and sent me into the wilderness, I doubt I'd manage to survive a day.  But I think that if someone else took me into a forest and taught me about nature, like my own teachers told me about math and science, I would be better for that time.  This is why I want to go to 6th Grade Camp.  To learn about the outdoors, become less dependent on my technology, and to make my home and school a better, cleaner place are just a couple reasons why I would love to go to camp.

First, wilderness skills would be useful for me to learn at camp.  Currently, the only plants I can identify are those in the supermarket.  There's a high chance of me accidentally chowing down on a poisonous berry, while laboring under the delusion that it was a cranberry.  Learning to survive out in the woods should also be useful.  Imagine if I laid down on a nest of fire ants, with a handful of poison ivy as a pillow!  I believe I could avoid those mistakes by going to 6th Grade Camp where I certainly could learn about the wilderness.

Next, going to 6th Grade Camp would be good for helping me stop relying on electronics.  Whenever I go on road trips, I (unfortunately) have a habit of reading, not enjoying the scenery.  Therefore, I miss a lot of chances to see different states and places.  At camp, I think that as I don't have a phone, I'll be able to see Cuyamaca, not the screen of a device.  In my opinion, seeing something in person is much more glorious than staring at a picture.

Finally, Cuyamaca Outdoor School can help me improve my home and school.  Every day, I look up at the sky.  Smog obscures some stars, and I can never be sure whether the rest are stars or winking airplane lights.  If I can compare the Cuyamaca sky with that of San Diego's, and if there's a great difference, it might give me the motivation I need to begin a project.  I've always wanted to create a fantastic invention to save the environment.  Maybe, just maybe, Cuyamaca's uncut nature will help inspire me.

In conclusion, these are the main reasons why I want to go to camp.  First off, it will help give me crucial survival skills that I need.  Also, Cuyamaca Outdoor School will help get me off of my mobile devices.  Last, I can make my school and house a much cleaner place.  The above reasons show why I really want to attend Cuyamaca Outdoor School.


Ellie Dana
Stone Ranch Elementary School
Poway Unified School District

As one of a family of seven and a triplet, sometimes it is truly a struggle for my whole family to bond over one thing.  As a result, we have been accustomed to always being open to trying something new.  One of the few things we all enjoy is adventuring in the outdoors.  We explore areas around our cabin in wild southern Utah, we make our own trails and examine odd animals.  So, I am extremely looking forward to camp.

I want to absorb all the knowledge of the forests, I want to be with all the animals and learn their clever ways of survival.  I want to go to camp, I need to go to camp!  How can I wait if I know there is so much to do?  It's a mixture of the things I endear most; exploring nature with friends and possibly even my beloved triplet sisters.

On top of all this, I can only dream of how much camp would change me.  I just know it will bring me even closer to the world around me.  In addition, I will definitely become more self-reliant.  With all of the newly-found skills, who knows what I could do!  I must not forget how much it could improve my community.  Humans are causing our beautiful Earth to die.  If we all went to camp and were also brought closer to nature, we could solve this problem together.  We would understand how important our ecosystem is, a true lesson for all.

I am brimming with excitement and my patience is running out.  I know that I belong in the outdoors.  It has always been clear to me.  Camp is a huge chance to learn and improve all of us and I just can't wait to be there.