Meetings were convened. Emails were sent. Schedules were made. Forms were completed. Staff were prepared. Bags were packed. Mesa Verde Middle School’s special education team, in conjunction with Cuyamaca Outdoor School's (COS) health care and administration, spent countless hours planning and preparing so that 12 students of varying abilities were ready for their week at 6th Grade Camp.
To every degree possible, students who are in special education participate in most of the same activities that all students attending camp do and are with their peers as much as possible. Although they may face some limitations, accommodations are made so that students participate in alternate, equally engaging activities.
“COS has an off-road trail chair for students with mobility challenges; we have a special archery bow for those students who can’t pull a regular bow, and if needed, we’ll transport students by bus or van to meet up for lunch with their activity group,” Principal Greg Schuett explained.
Activities for the Mesa Verde students included hiking to a creek where they dipped their fingers in the water, discovered frogs, and crossed log bridges. Up the hill at the Wilderness Recreation Activities Program, they took turns trying to shoot bullseyes and searched for geocaches using GPS devices.
In addition, they also took part in a nature study hike where they studied birds and helped plant coast live oak acorns to help repopulate the forest that is being decimated by the invasive goldspotted oak borer beetles. Students sanded and polished a gypsum rock craft or manzanita wood craft as a take-home souvenir and made new friends during cabin time. And of course, they attended the weekly talent show.
“Students who are in special education, maybe for the first time in their school career, are completely mixed in and participate with their peers,” Schuett said. “They are in the same cabins, in the dining hall, and participate in most or all of the same activities. Depending on their disability or learning challenge, they might be the best hikers in the group, might sing the best songs, or participate in the funniest skit at the talent show. Their fellow students see them in a different light, they see themselves in a different light. Quite often when I meet with the teachers on Friday, the special education teachers in particular are on the verge of tears as they describe the success and growth of the students, the fun they had, and the new friendships their students developed during the week.”
Mesa Verde Middle students finished the week with the all-day adventure hike to Lake Cuyamaca where they viewed the blossoming wildflowers and observed more birds. After a nap and the picnic dinner, everyone enjoyed the songs and skits performed by several of their students during the talent show.
“Students demonstrated curiosity, enthusiasm, perseverance, and determination," said Vice Principal Kris Pamintuan. "The staff demonstrated the utmost patience and worked tirelessly to ensure that each student was well cared for and was able to participate fully in each activity. Everyone had a blast!”
Kris Pamintuan and Monique Lidrazzah contributed to this story.