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I learned everything I need to know about life at sixth-grade camp


November 13, 2013
I was thinking about life the other day and, at the expense of waxing philosophical, I decided that nearly everything I have ever needed to know about life I learned at sixth-grade camp.

OK, so maybe that's an exaggeration, but it's a pretty close approximation of the truth.

When I was in school, there were a couple of things that were considered milestones: the first field trip to the zoo in kindergarten, the sixth-grade camping trip, making kites in Mrs. Wall's class, the junior high school trip to Holiday World (also the first time students were allowed to roam around uninhibited), senior skip day, "Stinky Cheese" Day and senior speeches with Mr. Trobaugh and, finally, graduation.

But, in hindsight, it was in sixth grade that I learned a lot of what has helped me to get to where I am now.

Bear with me.

In order to attend the trip, we had to make sure that all of our homework was completed each day and we had to stay out of trouble — for an entire year. No lunch detention, skipping class, talking back, fighting, late library books, missed quizzes or shirking classroom responsibilities. If any of these things occurred, we would receive one or more demerits, and, with a certain number (30, I think), we weren't allowed to attend the camp.

That process taught me about being a productive member of society. In life, it's important to be able to handle your responsibilities and to live life with as little conflict as possible. In the real world, you have to finish your work and there are no "my dog ate it" excuses.

I learned about friendship on that trip. A lot about friendship and how it often comes and goes. The old saying that you should never be roommates with your best friend is beyond true. I saw more friendships end in three days than I have in my entire life, all because people had to share their space.

As a kid, I didn't really get it because I have siblings and sharing is kind of what you do. Now, as an adult living on my own, I totally get it.

I also found out that there are consequences to breaking the rules.

Now, you might think, "Didn't she learn that earlier?" Well, yes, I did. My mother raised me well, but there's nothing quite like public humiliation to make a lesson stick.

While at the campground, it was a written-in-stone rule that you could not run to get to where you were going. Unless we were playing a monitored game or someone was bleeding, it was forbidden.

If you were caught running, you had to do push-ups; wherever you were, you had to stop, drop and pound out 10. I hated it at the time, but now I realize it wasn't because our teachers didn't want us to have fun — they did — it was because the campground was uneven and on a hillside. It was dangerous to run around willy-nilly, especially with 200 other people around.

I got caught running — a lot. After doing push-ups in front of the entire sixth grade, I learned to pay more attention.

It's like that in life. For example, I like to drive fast, but it isn't safe for me or those who drive the same roads that I do. If you drive fast, you don't get push-ups, you get tickets.

One funny thing I realized looking back on it was our chaperons were very patient.

Take this for example: I am very much not a morning person. However, I have always seemed to wake up at the relatively unfashionable hour that I like to call "O, God-30." Well, there aren't many 12-year-olds up that early, but our chaperons happened to be. I'll never forget Ms. Mathes taking me to eat breakfast with the teachers each morning.

Did you know that there is beauty in silence? I found that little nugget out when we were "roughing it."

It was so QUIET because, evidently, teachers don't like to talk to people in the morning either. Fine by me. I could sit on the porch and drink my chocolate milk and enjoy the silence. It was where I decided to like watching the sun come up. If you haven't, you should definitely try it sometime.

Perhaps, the biggest lesson I learned on our trip was about forgiveness. Even before we left on our trip, we were able to see forgiveness and second chances in action when there were a couple of students who'd earned too many demerits to go on the trip.

These were students who many people would have written off as troublemakers, but who Mr. Hauswald and Mr. Haub gave an opportunity to redeem themselves and attend the event with their peers.

Mr. Haub was really good at giving second chances. So is Mr. Hauswald.

Keep in mind we were only at camp for three days, but each day we would be shown that, even though we made mistakes (and you would be surprised at how many and varied mistakes pre-teens can make), we were human and had an opportunity to turn it all around.

Do you know why I had the opportunity to rack up so many push-ups? Because each time I ran, I paid my fine and was given a second chance. It was never held against me that I'd broken the rules, even though the teachers knew it may happen again. That's not to say the previous transgressions were forgotten, but we were still given opportunities to redeem ourselves and, eventually, by the middle of the second day, most of us had recovered from our need to run everywhere.

I know I certainly had.

While camp didn't teach us EVERYTHING we need to know in life — for example, how to balance a checkbook or pick out a college — it did teach us quite a lot worth knowing.

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Barbara Shaw
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