Building a legacy: Sixth grade camp seeks donations to renovate building and create memories


Kathryn McAuliffe

Bending down to help build a fire, sophomore and sixth grade camp counselor Anna Newberry coaches her camper, Rachel Ferguson, in using a flint and steel Aug. 28 at Camp Lakewood. Newberry attended Camp Lakewood as a summer camper, sixth grader and now counselor. “This is my first year as a cabin leader, but I'd gone to summer camp five years before that. It was really fun to watch the girls start out as not super close friends because it was the beginning of the school year. They didn’t know each other, but they bonded a lot,” Newberry said.

Flowing lakes, miles of trees, pioneer nights, horseback trails and unforgettable memories come to mind when thinking of Parkway’s Outdoor Schools. Known as “sixth-grade camp,” Parkway students have attended the YMCA Camp Lakewood for over 60 years, as middle schoolers and as high school counselors. 

“Students get an unbelievable experience [at camp]. They’re away from all the electronics for a week, and they get to really experience nature for the first time. There’s so many interesting things down at camp, like the outdoors [where] there is dam building, mining, orienteering and horseback riding,” retired West teacher and Parkway Outdoor Schools educator Larry Geldbach said. “The memories that they create first and foremost, and the knowledge they get about nature [is invaluable].”

Having to deal with hundreds of students, camp facilities have endured wear and tear. Moran Hall, a building that has fallen into disrepair and been condemned by the state, houses necessary camp supplies. The building itself is owned by and property of YMCA, but as the most frequent school group in attendance, Parkway Outdoor Schools has offered to help finance the remodeling of the building. 

“This fundraiser is to renovate Moran Hall, a building that has been condemned. It was named after Mike Moran who was an outdoor school teacher in Parkway 50 years ago; this is our 50th year,” Geldbach said. “We want to do this so we have an indoor facility for inclement weather, for owl pellets, our fossil unit and any sort of indoor activity we do.”

To fundraise for the renovations, the staff are reaching out for donations so they can assist in financing the construction and are also selling customizable bricks that will lay the path leading to the hall. 

Photo illustration of Moran Hall’s expected renovations.

“People should know their donations are going to [support] a building that’s in desperate need for the continuation of this camp–not only for [students] next year, but for years to come. The YMCA has been considering this for a year since it was condemned,” Geldbach said. “We value this program so much, and there’s no other place that offers what the YMCA offers, so we want to better it for future students.”

At camp, science is integrated into the student’s daily schedules and lessons, making it an educational and memorable experience. Teachers teach lessons on outdoor skills, nature and wildlife.

“Teachers are able to get to know the kids outside of school.  We get to see their strengths outside of the classroom and learn from them as well,” sixth grade math teacher Tracie Major said.  “We get to watch the students persevere through many of the outdoor education lessons and help their peers. We just really get to know our students a little better.”

High school students are able to serve as sixth grade counselors, or cabin leaders, reliving their sixth grade experience along with developing leadership and life skills. Sixth grade camp helps cultivate lifelong learners, encouraging counselors, teachers and students to learn alongside one another.

I think sixth grade camp makes learning fun, which inspires kids–and even adults–to become lifelong learners. I can’t wait to go back and do it all again,”

— junior and counselor Abby Caudill

“Getting to go back to camp was a great experience. I got to be a counselor for so many sweet girls, and by the end, we had all bonded. I learned a lot about being a leader and being responsible but still got to have tons of fun,” junior and counselor Abby Caudill said. “I got to connect with a lot of high schoolers as well; I became much closer with kids from my own school who I hadn’t even met before. I think sixth grade camp makes learning fun, which inspires kids–and even adults–to become lifelong learners. I can’t wait to go back and do it all again.”

Counselors and students feel that Outdoor Schools have proven to be an invaluable experience for counselors and students. The fundraiser’s goal is to continue the lasting legacy of outdoor school. 

“Camp benefits all sixth graders in so many ways. It helps them to persevere when something is hard. They are then able to take that to the classroom and work through something that is challenging,” Major said. “Camp is beneficial to sixth graders because they are able to figure out how to work with peers they might not know very well, and they develop a friendship at the same time. There are many life skills the kids learn at camp and are able to take back to the classroom.