Our partnerships with the school teachers are extremely important. Coordinating the residential camp trip is a very rewarding experience. In order to see camp from a teacher’s point of view, we interviewed Matt Turek, 6th grade science teacher at Greenview Upper Elementary School in South Euclid, Ohio. Matt has been bringing kids to the CVEEC for many years, so we picked his brain on what keeps him coming back, favorite trip memories, advice for rookie camp planners, and more.
Q: Mr. Turek, there are rumors spreading that you’ve started calling White Pines Dorm “home.” How many years have you been bringing kids out to the center?
A: Well, I started teaching at Greenview in 1999, and we started coming to the EEC my third year, so it’s been about 10 years now. Some of those years we came multiple weeks because we bring each of our teams. This may be the first year we’ve come three consecutive weeks, usually they are spread throughout the seasons.
Q: Is there a particular season you enjoy more than the others?
A: I wish the students were able to come out in multiple seasons because they are all so different. I love winter because you have the opportunity to see the trails covered in snow and in spring you can see the ponds full of life. It would be great to bring this same group of kids back in the spring so they can see how much everything has changed.
Q: What keeps you coming back to the center year after year?
A: Well, for why the school comes back, this is just a phenomenal experience that most of our students would never have. Being in the forest is something these kids just wouldn’t do themselves. For most of our students, this is the first time they have spent a night away from home. Yes, these kids will have the opportunity in life to travel with their families, but it will not be anything like this outdoor experience.
Also, it’s the fact that you guys have such a great curriculum. We can go to other camps and get the social camp experience, but you provide the academics as well. Each class ties in to science, language arts, math, etc. Academically, your camp fits our needs.
Personally, what keeps me coming back is the chance to get outside. Before I started teaching I was an archaeologist and spent many hours outside in the sun doing manual labor. Though teaching still gives me the mental stimulation that archaeology did, it’s missing that outdoor, physical aspect. I love to get out here at camp and hike the trails.
I also love the staff here. You have a really great group of people. You can tell that everyone is smart, college educated, and passionate about the environment. It really shines through in the programming. And, I love the food here.
Q: Looking back on your years here, are there particular moments or memories that stand out?
A: For me, it is all the little things the kids experience that make the trip complete. I love the stairs on the Watershed Story trail, I love the solo walk during the night hike, I love looking out over the valley at the end of the Overlook Trail, I love spring when you pull frogs and salamanders out of the pond, I love the game camouflage and I love putting kids into the hollow tree. If we didn’t do these activities, the trip would seem incomplete to me.
Q: Do you prep the kids before they come out?
A: Absolutely. I try to relate science lessons to experiences at camp. For example, the rock cycle is prevalent in the camp curriculum so when I teach the rock cycle in the classroom, I use examples of rocks I know we will see again at camp.
Also, I have thousands of pictures from camp over the years. Before I send the permission slips home, I show a slideshow of kids having fun at camp. Because camp is an unfamiliar experience for so many students, seeing pictures of kids enjoying themselves helps assure those who are apprehensive. The biggest things kids worry about are bed time, meals, and lack of electronics. We spend a lot of time answering questions about these three subjects.
Q: Is there a message or idea that kids hold on to when they come back from their week at camp?
A: I think this comes with the age, but what kids remember most are the social aspects. Yes, they do remember facts from classes, but what they talk about most is the experience staying overnight and the new relationships they’ve built. I have kids every year that do not want to go home at the end of the week; they want to stay one more night, or through the weekend. It’s more the general idea of camp and the overall fun memories that stick with them.
Q: Drawing from your 10 years of experience, do you have any advice for new teachers about coming to camp?
A: What’s the Boy Scout motto? Always be prepared. Having an open mind and expecting the unexpected, both good and bad. Inevitably, kids will get sick or someone will break a bracket off their braces; you just have to expect those random incidences. But, every year we have kids come out who, although they cause countless problems at school, we see them thrive in the camp environment. Doing science in school does not have the same impact as getting outside and experiencing the outdoors. It’s a completely different learning environment and it’s exciting to see how kids respond.
Q: Any final thoughts on the camp experience?
A: I try to convey to parents that you cannot compare this experience to anywhere else. I hear from families all the time that the price of the trip is too expensive. I tell them to look up the price of a water park admission and hotel accommodation for four days and three nights. By the time you add in food and your personal teacher guide for the week, the price is extremely reasonable. The parents that do come out and see the experience with their own eyes understand that it’s all well worth it, every cent. I wish more parents could come see what the camp experience is all about.
And again, I just enjoy the whole program. I love coming to the National Park, I bring my own kids here all the time. But, what’s neat about the CVEEC is it is closed off from the rest of the park, it’s a safe place. I know the National Park is in my backyard, and I try to take advantage of it as much as I can. But, I wish the CVEEC was literally in my own backyard so I could come hike the trails whenever I want.