Letters From Teachers - YCAMP

Letters From Teachers

 Hubbell Elementary 
     "When I grow up, I want to be a naturalist!!" "I wish Y-Camp was a whole week!!" Those are just a couple of statement that I hear every single year from fourth graders after experiencing Environmental Education at Y-Camp. To say that this experience was life-changing for some of our students would NOT be an exaggeration.
I have taken fourth graders on this trip for fifteen years and it’s always a success. Some of the most hesitant students are the ones who have the best and most fulfilling time. I have former students, who are now parents themselves; still talking about the experiences they had on that trip—from the friendships formed to the nature experiences to the confidence boosting activities.
     One of the biggest selling points to this program is the fact that I incorporate our curriculum. The naturalists work with us to make sure that the classes fit directly into the standards and benchmarks that the district has set. This, in itself, is key when presenting it to the higher ups and the parents.
     One of the obstacles that we initially saw was reluctant teachers not wanting to spend nights and days with the students. However, in all honesty, after the first time they did it, they were hooked. The well-trained naturalists lead all the classes and the teachers and chaperones are there for support and discipline. Again, because it is a totally different classroom, there have been very few discipline problems.
     Another obstacle was the cost. We start talking to the students and parents early in the year and brainstorm ways in which the students themselves can help pay for the cost. Some ideas we tell them are to pick up pop cans, do extra chores for money, use a small portion of birthday and/or holiday money, etc. We set up a spreadsheet so the students can bring in money to go towards the trip at any time during the year. Your PTA may also set aside some dollars for this trip. In my case, it only took one year of showing them what an educational opportunity this was to get money set aside each year for this trip. 
     Each year I have witnessed this program get better and better. I would highly encourage anyone who wants to see a life-changing impact on students to take this trip. It’s kind of like a potato chip…you can’t just go once!
Anita Babe
4th grade teacher
Hubbell Elementary
Des Moines, Iowa

Holy Trinity Catholic School
     For six summers, I worked as a leader at Ycamp, so I knew that they had amazing programming and experiences for kids. Yet, I saw camp in a whole new light when I signed up my fifth graders for a field trip. From the second we drove down the big hill, my kids lit up with wonder and excitement. This kind of trip might be intimidating, but I’d like to briefly share with you why Ycamp is worth it!
     Talk about differentiation! This trip appeals to all students, but I have watched students who need hand-on experiences absolutely thrive. I watched students who struggle in math and science suddenly start talking about angles, environmental protection and Iowa History. How did this happen? By raising an actual teepee of course! Students take notes, ask questions, and discuss many issues that I wouldn’t be able to full show them in the classroom.
     As a new teacher in the building, I was nervous to start this kind of programming my first year. I’m so glad that I did. One of the chaperones told me this was the best trip they had ever attended. After a day trip the first year, we quickly switched to an overnight program. Next year will be our third overnight trip and the buzz has already started about it.
     Whether singing songs about habitats, building shelters in the woods or watching bats fly at night; this continues to be an experience that changes the lives of my students. I highly recommend putting Ycamp in your plans!
Heidi Klemmensen
5th grade teacher
Holy Trinity Catholic School

Hartford Upper Elementary 
     The Carlisle 5th graders have been going to the Des Moines YMCA camp for approximately 20 years and it has become a tradition for our students and our community. Lessons about teamwork, leadership, trying new things, and problem solving can be taught and re-taught in the classroom, but at camp the students can experience these traits in a different way and apply them in a new setting. It is something they look forward to all year long, and continue to talk about even when they’re in high school. The YMCA Camp and its staff have a great program that is fun and entertaining for the kids but also ties in to our standards and benchmarks so that we are still learning and covering important parts of our curriculum while having a good time.
     To be honest, we panicked a little when the Department of Education came down with their new ruling about field trips. We were afraid that we would be able to raise enough money to bring the 150 kids plus adults to camp that year we would have to discontinue a valuable program. But the Y-Camp staff worked with us to come up with different fundraising ideas and way to work in the community, and en in the end we were able to raise enough money just through asking parents to donate to this trip. The community had heard how great this camp was, the district knew that it was educational and not just a free couple of days, we worked harder to promote the value of camp, and in the end we were able to put it all together and continue the tradition.
     We also learned a lot by going on the trip this year with the new rules handed won to us by the DOE. We are going to look towards having an "installment" plan that we’ll begin in October and ask families to set aside $5 to $10 a month to help pay for the trip. We also plan on being more upfront and promoting the neat things that happens at camp instead of keeping it as "a surprise’. This way we can make camp affordable to families, we can make students excited to because of how fun it’ll be, and parents will know that their child is still receiving valuable education for the two days that we are there. Carlisle feels confident that this program is worth continuing in the future, that its benefits are numerous, and that our community and district will support this venture for years to come.
Dan Carver
5th grade teacher
Hartford Upper Elementary
Carlisle Community School District.
Davis Elementary

Davis Elementary
     So you ask, "How can we afford to send over 125 fourth graders to Y-Camp for a 3-day, 2-night environmental program?" The explanation… after 8 years of this incredible immersion learning experience is… "How could we justify NOT providing this unique opportunity to future generations of fourth graders?" Besides… the parents, community members, and teachers who have had the privilege of participating in the Des Moines Y-Camp Environmental Education Program as chaperones would do whatever it took to make this program happen!
     This is not to say that process of acquiring the necessary funding was an easy task. They determination of the Davis PTO and fourth grade teachers made it a reality despite the legislative change in the law making it impossible to charge families a portion of the fee. Concerns of the slumping economy and subsequent recession also loomed in our minds.
     The Davis PTO once again guaranteed their long-term commitment to fund a third of the program fees and bussing costs through fundraisers.
     Our local chapter of Pheasants Forever heard our cries for help and stepped up with a significant annual contribution thanks to the efforts of a loving grandfather who had recently chaperoned his grandson’s Y-Camp experience. The grandfather’s desire to make sure all of our community’s children have this experience convinced his PF chapter to reestablish their commitment to Poweshiek Country’s environmental education.
The fourth grade teachers were successful in obtaining a one time grand for funding through Grinnell College.
We approached a local businessman who had chaperoned our first year of Y-Camp when it was difficult to find adult volunteers. Despite having no children at the time, his love of nature and desire to share it with students convinced him to take time away from his business and attend Y-Camp. Now a father of several children, one of who was a third grader, he pledged a significant annual contribution over the next five years. 
     The community was made aware of our need donation opportunities by means of advertisements and articles in our local newspapers and through presentations to local groups. Checks from community members and local church groups started to roll in.
     The parents of current fourth graders were presented the cost breakdown of sending a child to Y-Camp and given the opportunity to donate toward the cost of this one-in-a-lifetime experience. The response was incredible!
     Had you asked us last fall if we would be able to secure funding for the Y-Camp environmental education program, we would have honestly answered that we weren’t sure. Ask us again this year, and we’ll absolutely tell you that we can, and will do it! We believe the program speaks for itself! The fourth grade teachers, the PTO, and the Grinnell community will do whatever it takes to make this opportunity available for future generations of fourth graders!
The Davis Fourth Grade Teachers
Sally Smith, Kim Blunk, David Abarr, Emily Schultz, Lori Elliott.

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