by Elizabeth Topliffe, Head of School
You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you might find
You get what you need
--The Rolling Stones
Our elementary students spent a portion of last week at Camp Henry. It would be quite easy for students and parents alike (staff too) to remember only that the bus did not arrive to bring us home.
Just as we had lined up, taken a group photo by the lake, stopped at the bathrooms, and assembled into small groups for dismissal to the bus, my phone rang. It was Sarah B. She was calling to let me know the bus driver had gone to the wrong camp, and that she would be at Camp Henry in the next hour.
Fast forward two hours. Yes. TWO HOURS. With no bus in sight, Jeff “Jake” Jacobs, Executive Director of Camp Henry, offered to drive us back to Grand Rapids. Our bus full of kids navigated Leonard Street NW through construction and Friday 5:00 ArtPrize traffic. We were home safe and sound—only three hours late.
The bus was on the minds of every student, every parent, and every staff member, and it would be easy (and tempting) to make that the story of our trip. Fortunately, so much more happened that we don’t need to make that our focus.
Here are some of my highlights:
- One of our students exclaimed, “I might tell my mom that I can take a shower by myself every time! She doesn’t have to help me anymore."
- I watched a student, who was quite nervous about heights, decide to put on a harness and helmet, and make her way out onto the high ropes course for five or six brave steps. On the next day, that same student put on a harness and helmet again, and braved the giant swing. She inspired me!
- Most of our students initially struggled with the concept of passing food around a table. They thought that passing food included reaching over three or four friends to hand something down, or that sliding a plate across a table (in hopes that the momentum would not carry it over the edge) was how to pass food. I watched over the two days as the lesson about passing to the person sitting next to you was learned and practiced.
- When our counselor was slow to arrive to the front of the line for lunch, one of our upper elementary students got up on the steps and led the entire group in a song from the evening’s campfire, keeping order and a high level of engagement among our students while we waited.
- An older student worked with a younger student to make a boat out of cardboard and paper. There was much use of “please”, “thank you” and “no thank you.”
- And yes, there were some tears and fears in the cabins at night. But even there, I watched a younger student find comfort with an older student, and an entire group of students help reassure one or two through their fear of spiders.
- As this was our fourth consecutive year at Camp Henry, I also saw the growth of some of our students over the years. One student, in particular, was settled and calm. She showed other students where to find things in the dining hall. She participated in every single group activity. She guided new students to the bathrooms. I could barely believe my eyes. This was the same third year, who, as a first year, could not sit still, bounced between activities and refused to participate. I realized that Camp Henry is not just about growth in the two days we are there. It is also about the growth between years, as our students call on their memories and the traditions of camp to help lead others.
As we waited for the bus, I began to focus on how tired our students were, the anxiety of our staff about getting home, and even some of the homesickness of some of our students. Then, one student pointed out some pretty amazing facts. He made the following observations to me aloud:
- Three Camp Henry counselors dropped what they were doing to lead our school in more games on the field;
- Two other Camp Henry staff found a snack for us;
- Tyler dropped everything to get the bus running; and
- Jake dropped his work to drive us back to Grand Rapids.
I was impressed at this recounting of facts (especially that there was a headcount). He was right.
It has been said, “Instead of leading children, teachers should be willing to be taught by them. . . In essence, the role of the teacher is not to instruct, but to facilitate.” By that measure, we succeeded. Both our staff and students learned a great deal about flexibility, paying attention to how much other people offer, and about just being together as a community.
When we arrived at school, I learned that a parent group met at the Mitten to wait for the bus there, with good company and a beer. Other parents had gathered on the playground at school, creating an impromptu playdate for younger children, and still more parents waited together on the sidewalk, catching up with one another, swapping stories, and laughing about the bus. There was not a single loud complaint. Instead, there was empathy and understanding for the staff and the students from our parents.
We had some fabulous opportunities last Friday afternoon—we were flexible, and we worked hard to communicate our revised plans. We got to play a few extra games. And, if we paid attention, we could see some pretty cool things happening.
If you get a chance, ask one of our elementary students what they noticed and remembered from camp. And let me know if you find a used bus that’s available for sale!
PS—I called the bus company on Monday. The driver was fine, but lost, and she did not check in with them until 5:30. We were not charged for our trip.