When they head out to Vashon Island for three days and nights at Camp Sealth, Tillicum Middle School sixth-graders can scarcely imagine what an impact their adventure is about to have on them. They’ve heard all about the hikes they’ll have in the woods, walks on the beach, talks about the tides. But they don’t yet know this experience will teach them as much about themselves as the world around them. Some are nervous and trying not to show it. They may have never stayed away from their families this long. They might not know their cabin mates very well.
“When they break away, open up and form new relationships with other peers, they learn compassion, empathy and acceptance,” says Kim Hay, a special education teacher who’s been coordinating Tillicum’s partnership with Camp Sealth for almost two decades.
“Away from home, kids discover new ways to belong.”
As they settle in, kids start to realize this is a chance to enjoy the outdoors and learn without the same day-to-day pressures that can feel overwhelming as their high school years approach. “We have such a high increase in school-related anxiety and absenteeism these days. It’s a wonderful thing to see these kids learning and just enjoying it, not feeling any stress,” Kim says.
About 30 schools venture out to Camp Sealth each year for outdoor education camps like Tillicum’s. They learn about astronomy, sustainability, and forest, wetland and marine ecosystems. They talk about ways they can apply the lessons learned at camp when they go home.
“Camp is a really important experience,” Kim says. “It’s not just about academics or outdoor education — it’s about the whole child.”
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