Redwoods, new friends and banana slugs

A Naturalist tells students about the animals that live in the creek and how litter impacts their environment. (Courtesy photo)

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For over 36 years, Winters Middle School sixth graders have had the opportunity to attend a week-long environmental educational experience through Exploring New Horizons Outdoor School in Santa Cruz. This year, sixth graders continued the long-time tradition at the Camp Sempervirens site from Feb. 6–10.

WMS made the switch to Camp Sempervirens from the Camp Loma Mar adventure last year when they brought both the sixth and seventh-grade classes to experience outdoor school following a break during the pandemic.

Sixth-graders had the opportunity to explore habitats at the beach and along the creek, hiked through the redwoods with their cabin groups, adventured on a solo hike, participated in the infamous mock town hall meeting and more.

For many students, the camp was their first time overnight apart from their families and challenged them to unplug and explore nature. The Express reached out to students who attended outdoor school to find out what kind of experiences they gained from the experience.

Some of the big takeaways students shared were learning about how to identify poison oak, that redwood tree bark is fireproof and that one should, indeed, not kiss banana slugs. Many of them raved about going on the night hike and the solo hike in the redwood, learning more about the different animal habitats and discovering the peace found in nature. Others enjoyed the chance to make natural paint with rocks and mud and play on the beach.

“I learned that it’s great to go on little walks or hikes once in a while,” Jayden De La Cruz said.

“It was awesome! We went to the beach and we made shelters it was the best part because I spent the whole time doing all this fun stuff it was the best,” said Ayden Poteat.

“During my week at Outdoor School Camp, I went on hikes and saw some beautiful parts of nature that I had never explored,” Frances Lundy said.

“I learned to value nature more and sometimes just stop to smell the flowers, both literally and figuratively,” Jackelyn Cooper said.

Some students said they discovered not only could they survive without electronics, but they had the opportunity to get to know their friends and classmates better.

“I learned how to work as a team and communicate as a team and as a cabin group,” Kayla Suarez said.

“I learned a lot about nature and I learned to work as a team to solve problems,” August Nelson said.

“I learned that enjoying the moment is really important because you may never get that moment again,” Zackary Strange said.

“I learned how to talk with people I never thought I would talk to. I also learned how to respect nature,” Julieta Duehas said.

“I learned to make new friends, appreciate nature, and disconnect from electronics,” Diana Diaz said.

Some of the sixth graders are already making plans to return as camp counselors once the opportunity to apply comes in high school.

“It was really, really fun! The food was delicious, the hikes were awesome and I learned a lot from them,” said Jack Jordling. “It was definitely a trip with the kids in my cabin, and the nighttime activities were very fun. I will definitely go back as a cabin leader when I am in high school.”

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