Impressions From A Fifth Grade Camp Chaperone


119 students.
34 chaperones.
10 groups.
6 school buses + 6 YMCA buses.
2 ferry rides.

One amazing experience.

Last week I had the pleasure of serving as a chaperone for my son’s Fifth Grade camp. While Fifth Grade camp was not something I did as a youngster in California, it seems to be a tradition that many have experienced here in Washington. As the time drew near, I was excited for mainly two things: to bunk with twelve other females for girl talk and giggling, and to have a break from cooking as I enjoyed five meals prepared in the camp kitchen.

We set out early Wednesday morning via school bus and headed northwest approximately fifty-two miles to the Anacortes ferry. The buses dropped us off and soon the ferry cruised through the breathtaking San Juan Islands. The ferry ride alone is one that’s often sought out by tourists. As we made our way through, the overcast sky turned blue and sunshine warmed us, and, thankfully, decided to stick around for the rest of the trip. After quick stops at Lopez and Shaw Islands, we arrived at our final destination, Orcas Island. YMCA buses took us to what was to be our home for two nights, Camp Orkila. The 280-acre camp is on the northwest side of the island facing Canada. In fact, it’s so close, some of us got “Welcome abroad” text messages from our cell phone carriers as we arrived. We were greeted by a lively young director named Tim, who, with his deep DJ-like voice, welcomed us and rounded up kids for their orientation and ushered chaperones off for a separate one. We unloaded gear in our cabins and began one of the many activities that would pack our schedule for the rest of the week.

We started with team-building, getting-to-know-you-type games and then moved into engaging and entertaining educational activities, like beach walks (to discover sea creatures and marine life), habitat hikes through the forest (where students learned through a team game about the life cycles of salmon berries, bunnies and hawks), practiced outdoor living skills (building a fire, not leaving a trail), climbed a high ropes course, and built a geodesic dome with logs and ropes. Enthusiastic, knowledgeable, college-age Y leaders – who’ve studied marine biology and other environmental subjects – guided the students through these activities. The late afternoon Open Rec time included an array of activities, like row boats, gaga ball, an art studio and archery.

I found myself in awe much of the week. In large part, at the time and effort of the five-person Fifth Grade teaching team and the preparation and organization required to make the trip possible: the fundraising opportunities, the parent chaperones, the handcrafted name tag medallions for each child, the tie-dyed t-shirts that each camper made for the trip, the transportation logistics, the cabin assignments, the freshly-brewed hot coffee each morning. To think of the dedication and commitment of these teachers – to make this memorable trip happen for students whose Elementary school days are drawing to a close – simply bowled me over. As a parent, my heart was bursting with gratitude for the experience that they created for my son – and for so many others, some of whom had never been on a ferry or in a row boat.

And then there were the behind-the-scenes happenings that moved me. The girl who declared with self-assured pride and a sense of accomplishment – after walking several miles throughout the day to the various activities at upper and lower camp, along the beach and in the forest: “It’s the hardest thing I’ve done in my life.” The boy whose challenge for himself was simply to climb up the tree at the high ropes course. Yet once he did that, he got a boost of confidence and traversed the whole way across between two trees, about 25 feet in the air, beaming. The girl who was so homesick that she shed tears both nights, but worked through it with the support of her teacher and cabin mates. The boys who ran around at dusk with flashlights that glowed like fireflies, goofing off in an open meadow. The girls who threw rocks in the ocean, singing the brand-new camp song “boom, chicka boom….”

The boys’ 9 p.m. “shower party.”

The girls braiding lanyards.

I simply soaked it all in and – with great appreciation – watched as they made lasting memories.

Skits, games, songs, KP duty.


And two of the most magnificent sunsets I’ve ever seen.

Fifth Grade camp was more than I could’ve imagined.

The time came for our final meal Friday morning. The YMCA staff passed out postcards for the kids to fill out and gave them a before-and-after writing prompt. With permission, another chaperone and I perused some of the thoughts shared. One of the girls in our cabin penned:

Before camp, I thought it would be scary without my family.
After camp, I know that friends are family, too.

With a lump in my throat, I realized that one sentiment probably summed up the feelings of many of the kids in that dining hall.

In approximately 105 days these 119 students will step foot into Middle School.

Before camp, I thought it would be scary without my family.
After camp, I know that friends are family, too.

Is there a better way to send them off?

Thank you, teachers.
Thank you, Camp Orkila.


4 thoughts on “Impressions From A Fifth Grade Camp Chaperone

  1. What our wonderful memories are made of with our children and friends- will last forever. Love Mom and Gramma

  2. Big smile, Great memories for the future. Such a building block for future challenges

  3. Wow! What a great experience! At Gabby’s school, parents have not been allowed on field trips for the last two years! 😦

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