What it’s like to spend time as an outdoor school counselor

Back in sixth grade, everyone had the opportunity to go to outdoor school. Although you will never be able to go back as a camper, it is possible for you to return, this time as a student leader. For one week this October, I had the chance to be one.

As a student leader, outdoor school was a big responsibility and a lot of work, but it was one of the best experiences of my life. I met other leaders from different high schools, and because most of us were in the same boat of not knowing anyone else there, it was super fun to hang out with and get to know them.

There are two types of weeks at Outdoor School: a normal week and a split week. A normal week is where the kids show up on Monday or Tuesday, stay for the whole week and leave on Friday. Split weeks are where the week is split between two different groups of students. Generally, the first group arrives on Monday around 10:30 a.m., but will leave on Wednesday at noon. After the first group leaves on Wednesday, a second group will come, and you repeat exactly what you did with your last group.

I got to experience the ups and downs of a split week. Being a student leader for a split week is extremely tiring, and by the end of the week, all the days have blended into one. There isn’t much time for you to get to know the kids in your cabin, and about halfway through the week, teaching field study feels very repetitive.

Wednesday was especially long because we had to help the kids in their cabin move out in the morning, teach field study to the last group of students, load the luggage onto the buses and say goodbye to the kids. Later in the day, when the second school came, we had to welcome them, lead tours, unload luggage, eat lunch and go to Community Meeting with them, move them into the cabins, teach field study, go to campfire and go on the night hike.

One of the most important responsibilities is being the leader of your cabin. There are usually eight to twelve kids in a cabin, and some cabins will have two student leaders so they can help each other out. My co-cabin leader was a senior and third-year returning student leader. As such, she was able to help me and give advice, which made my experience less stressful. We were also able to bond really well and relate to each other because we were experiencing the same things within our cabin.

The other main job of a student leader is teaching one of four field studies: plants, water, earth or wildlife. This part is fun because you get to learn more about what you are teaching and do fun activities with the kids. In wildlife, which was the field study I taught, we played an echolocation game, did activities where we talked about beaver and bird adaptations and went through the process for tracking animal prints.

The difficulty of teaching field study varies depending on how well behaved the students in your group are. While it may be easier to get one group’s attention, a different group could be easily distracted or talkative, which would make it extremely hard. Getting the students to stay on task and quiet was the hardest part. This is where attention getters come in handy. An example is the student leader calling out “One, two, three, eyes on me!” and the students replying “One, two, eye on you!”

Despite the main responsibilities of being a student leader, there are times when you are not with the kids. The main times are firewatch, homeroom and recreation. Firewatch is a time at the end of the day, after the kids are in bed, where the student leaders meet in the dining hall to eat leftovers, play games and do evaluations while the clones, who are the alter egos of the sixth grade teachers, watch the cabins.

Homeroom is about an hour when student leaders get together to talk about the good things everyone is doing as student leaders and some things to work on. Lastly, recreation is one of the most fun times both as a kid and a student leader. For an hour the kids have free time to play whatever games the staff are leading while student leaders are allowed to shower, do homework and access the items that were turned in at the beginning of the week, such as any food, electronics, chargers and headphones. Spending time with the kids during this time is optional, but it can be a lot of fun to play games with them and the other student leaders. During recreation, I was outside playing kickball with the students and other student leaders, which I found to be a lot of fun because all of the kids were super excited.

Being a counselor was a great experience where I learned more about myself, gained new leadership skills and met many other high school students who I can now call close friends. I will never forget the memories I made with them and the staff or the fun I had with the students at field study, campfire or recreation.

Some final reasons to be a student leader besides the great experience and fun are that you get a lot of volunteer hours and can even get college credit. It looks great on job applications, plus you can meet a lot of new people around your age. It’s an overall exciting and unique experience, and I would recommend everyone to try it!

If you’re interested, you can visit the Outdoor School website and sign up!