Attending outdoor school is a time-honored sixth grade tradition in Parkway.
Whether attending decades ago under the umbrella of Trout Lodge or more recently as Camp Lakewood, the experience is a throwback to simpler days sans technology and involves significant hands-on engagement with nature. The environmental education learning experience includes water ecology, geology through mining, animal science through skulls, exploration of pellets and pelts of native species, and more.
Since 1970, the Parkway Outdoor School Program has been held at Trout Lodge/Camp Lakewood located at the YMCA of the Ozarks near Potosi. It originally was referred to as the E-E-E [environmental, ecological, experiential] Program. Thirteen middle school teams in Parkway attend each year for a four-day week between late August and mid-November or March through May.
Initially supported by federal funding, the program now relies, in part, on district funds and student fees. To keep costs down for both students and the district, the program went from five days to four days several years ago.
Assistant Camp Director Mike Shipman has witnessed the evolution of the program since 1973; first, as a teacher at Claymont Elementary and then as camp director at Carman Trails Elementary. Many years ago, sixth grade was part of elementary school. When it moved to middle school, so did Shipman’s commitment to the program. Even retirement hasn’t stopped him.
“In the first few years of the program in the late 60s, the camp was known as Camp Wyman and it was an outdoor experience that began on Sunday. It is now a Tuesday through Friday program. [Now retired], I spend most of my time devoted to the camp and spend about nine weeks a year there,” Shipman explained. He loves watching the students walk off the bus with a different sense of self than when they got on the bus to go to camp.
“The teams that go at the beginning of the year come back from outdoor school more cohesive,” Parkway Health and Physical Education Coordinator Eddie Mattison shared. “It’s not scientific, but the students seem to have more respect for each other and the team building they’ve shared makes for a better school year.”
Recently, School Resource Officer Matt Ahal attended a day of camp as an invited guest, a longtime desire he can now cross off his bucket list. Hired by Manchester Police Department in 2014, Ahal is in his fourth year as an SRO, splitting his time between Southwest Middle and Barretts, Wren and Hanna Woods elementary schools. Working with kids while in law enforcement was a career goal, thus, this job blends his interests perfectly.
“I want kids to see law enforcement as a resource and that I am a good guy they can talk to. Sometimes they share their classroom assignments with me, or ask to interview me for a school project,” Ahal explained. “My goal is to make sure that they know they can trust me and see a softer appearance of law enforcement; [that] we’re not just sticking around to arrest people, but we want to support the family.”
At camp, Ahal received a tour of the facilities, including teacher areas and classrooms. He enjoyed archery and target shooting, but the nature walk was his favorite. “That is where I saw the kids really use their imaginations. They shared opinions and insights. It was a more personal interaction with the kids,” Ahal said.
Larry Geldbach, a retired Parkway West High driver’s education teacher, serves as one of the assistant camp directors. He is a Parkway alumnus who attends camp about eight weeks a year.
“I never went to camp myself. I came to Parkway in the seventh grade,” Geldbach said. “My desire is to work with the kids and teach them on a different, greater level than the traditional classroom experience.”
Historically, Moran Hall, on the campus at Camp Lakewood, has helped to accomplish that goal. However, the building – named posthumously for Mike Moran, a former outdoor Parkway school teacher from Shenandoah Valley Elementary and South Middle – has been condemned.
The hall has fallen into disrepair, including water running through the building causing mold. But Mattison explained that prior to its condemned status, Moran was utilized about 52 days a year as a classroom facility. Although the building is owned by the YMCA, it primarily was used by Parkway groups and housed the school’s essential camp equipment.
Now, Geldbach, Shipman and Mattison are leading the charge to save the building. The vision for its renovations includes being able to grow the program and use modern technology to enhance learning. The renovated hall will be more energy-efficient and teaching sustainability will be added to the curriculum. It also would have increased storage space and Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant bathrooms and collaborative spaces to ensure an inclusive educational experience.
According to Mattison, the renovation is eligible for a matching Resident Camp Capital Grant for $40,000 through the YMCA of the USA Strategic Initiative Fund. In order to qualify for the grant, the money must be raised by June 30. Geldbach hopes some of the camp’s 76,000 alumni will give to the cause and share a favorite outdoor school memory.
The project caught the attention of Parkway West High junior Kathryn McAuliffe, who wrote an informative piece for the school newspaper. Not only did McAuliffe attend camp as a sixth-grader but also returned as a high school counselor.
“I had so many great memories at camp from my time there and wanted to return as a counselor. I got to be a counselor on my little brother’s rotation as well, which was a super unique experience. I got to share all the amazing memories I had in middle school with him, which not many people get to do,” McAuliffe said.
Being separated from technology and engaged with nature is a beneficial experience for the kids, “and one they may not get ever again,” McAuliffe added.
“That’s why sixth-grade camp [and Moran Hall] is worth saving,” she said, “because it provides so many incredible opportunities for students.”[Editor’s note: Those wishing to support the restoration of Moran Hall can visit parkwayschools.net and search for “Moran Hall”.]