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 Ashford University Supports Camp for San Marcos Kids

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Students attending Cuyamaca Outdoor School this week welcomed some special visitors who came bearing a very generous gift.

Representatives of Ashford University presented a $10,000 check to the San Diego Outdoor Education Foundation, which helped sponsor 100 San Marcos Elementary School 5th-graders through its New to Camp program. Ashford University has been a supporter of Cuyamaca Outdoor School and the foundation for several years.

“Ashford University is proud to support Outdoor Education Foundation’s ‘New To Camp’ Program,” said Dr. Tony Farrell, Ashford University’s executive dean of the College of Education. “We believe every child is deserving of a quality education, and the experience students receive from attending Cuyamaca Outdoor School will only enhance a student’s educational success.”

The foundation's New to Camp program sponsors schools that have not attended Cuyamaca Outdoor School and whose enrollment includes a significant number of students coming from socio-economically disadvantaged households. The program previously supported Mission Elementary in Oceanside and Cesar Chavez Elementary in San Diego.

Cuyamaca Outdoor School, located in the 25,000-acre Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, is operated by the San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE) and is San Diego County's original 6th Grade Camp. Cuyamaca is the only program in San Diego County certified by the California Outdoor School Association as a Residential Outdoor Science School. Its curriculum is designed by credentialed teachers to take full advantage of the Next Generation Science Standards, and lessons incorporate trail experiences and citizen scientist projects to create hands-on learning that is meaningful, memorable, and fun.

“Currently, only 30 percent of San Diego County 6th-graders get to spend a week at Cuyamaca Outdoor School -- that's not enough!” said Mike Watson, president of the San Diego Outdoor Education Foundation. “With the help of grants like those from Ashford University, we are closing that gap, giving students who've never been to the mountains a chance to experience nature up close.”

At one point, it was a given that all San Diego County 6th-graders would attend camp. Now, many schools do not participate because of cost, and those that do often depend on outside support or donations to make 6th Grade Camp a reality for their students.

San Marcos Elementary School Principal Stephanie Wallace’s 5th-grade teachers are big supporters of outdoor learning, so when she received an email about Cuyamaca Outdoor School she shared it with the teachers, who jumped at the chance to make the trip happen. “It was not tough to convince me,” Wallace said. “I wanted them to come.”

After spending a few hours with the San Marcos students Thursday, it was clear to the Ashford and foundation officials that making the trip happen for the school was an excellent decision. Four San Marcos 5th-graders led a lively tour for their visitors, demonstrating vast knowledge of the outdoors after just 48 hours at camp.

Christian Chavez, Maricela Diaz, Vallerie Lemus-Ramirez, and Amy Taboada demonstrated how they learned to start a campfire using a spindle, knot, and bow. They recounted the wildlife -- and wildlife skeletons -- they saw on a daylong hike, which ended with a cool dip in a mountain spring. They recited the SAMSPAW acronym that camp instructors shared with them to help them remember the natural elements of Earth: sun, air, minerals, soil, plants, animals, and water. And they all seem to enjoy communal quarters -- they said the cabin with a few dozen bunks is their favorite part of camp.

When they get back to school, Maricella said, they will tell their friends that camp was really fun, but “I don’t want to brag.”

And that’s perfect for the educators working to get more students to Cuyamaca Outdoor School. As Interim Senior Director for Outdoor Education Bob Mueller puts it, this first group of San Marcos students and Ashford’s gift are the start of a legacy.