Chimacum honors Camp Cispus program

Posted 10/16/19

On Sept. 25, Chimacum Elementary Principal Jason Lynch organized recognition of the program’s success. Lynch introduced the team of teachers who lead Cispus, starting with Shawn Meacham, who recalled his niece’s graduation “a couple of years back,” when five out of the six student speakers mentioned their Cispus experiences, “and the sixth was an exchange student who hadn’t attended sixth grade here.”

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Chimacum honors Camp Cispus program

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Change may be a constant at Chimacum School District, but the other constant is a three-decade-old camp program for sixth-graders that’s become part of the district’s culture.

Since about 1986, Chimacum’s sixth-grade students have started their school year with a trip to Camp Cispus on the west side of Mt. Rainier National Park, where teachers and high school students put the students through a series of challenge courses, team-building activities, and hands-on lessons in geography and geology.

While the Cispus program was previously a means of welcoming sixth-graders to middle school, the reorganization of the district’s schools has made it a part of their final year at Chimacum Elementary, before they head off to the Chimacum Junior/Senior High School in seventh grade.

On Sept. 25, Chimacum Elementary Principal Jason Lynch organized recognition of the program’s success. Lynch introduced the team of teachers who lead Cispus, starting with Shawn Meacham, who recalled his niece’s graduation “a couple of years back,” when five out of the six student speakers mentioned their Cispus experiences, “and the sixth was an exchange student who hadn’t attended sixth grade here.”

Meacham credited the resonance of the program with former participants working as counselors when they become high schoolers.

Fellow teacher Nancy Wyatt, who’s been part of Cispus “for the past couple of decades,” illustrated the emotional impact of the program by recounting the tale of a first-time counselor, who volunteered on the recommendation of friends, and was so overwhelmed by the experience that they felt like they’d been “hit by a truck,” but when it came time to leave, the counselor found they cared about the kids so much that they actually asked out loud, “What have you done to me?”

This year marked Mitch Brennan’s first as a Cispus teacher, and while he wasn’t entirely behind the program, “I kept my eyes open and my mouth shut,” which allowed him to witness the relationships that developed, not only between students, but also between the students and their teachers and counselors.

“They learned to trust each other through these outdoor exercises,” Brennan said. “It was obviously a formative experience for them. I’m sold now.”

Al Gonzalez is not just a teacher, but he’s also seen both his kids go through Cispus, and as a science teacher, he appreciates that he can teach them about the history of Mount St. Helens and “they’re all right there,” within sight of the volcano.

Teacher Gretchen Berg has been part of the Longboats outdoor education program for seventh-graders, a follow-up to Cispus, for roughly a dozen years, and she praised Cispus for preparing students for the Longboats program at the Northwest Maritime Center, which tasks students with working in teams to sail vessels, and even lets them practice captaining a ship using a simulator.

“The Longboats program gives kids a background in the local maritime trades that are so critical to our community,” Berg said. “Cispus sets them up for it, by honing their real-life skills and teaching them to face their fears.”

Gonzalez noted that students in the free and reduced-price meal program have their fees for Cispus either reduced or waived, to ensure that every sixth-grader can take part, even as the district conducts fundraisers to cover the costs of conducting the program.

“We hear that the school district doesn’t have a vision, but you all are making that vision,” Chimacum School Board member Mike Raymond told the teachers at the board’s Sept. 25 meeting. “Cispus is proof that this district does awesome things.”

Lynch pointed out that, even when the sixth-graders return from Cispus, they remain so motivated by the experience that many of them are still wearing their team bandanas from the camp.

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