Village School

Walden West: Getting There is Half the Fun!

By Tracey Kemp, Member of Village Voice Team, and Parent of Snowboarding Snow Leopard Catherine and Village Alum Julia

Can you call someone by their Nature Name? Will the sweet lyrics of Shooting Star make you teary? Can you still remember the Friday Slide Show? These are signs that you have already experienced the magic of Walden West with an older child. Now it is this year’s 5th graders’ turn to head out. And they are busy earning their way through fundraising and volunteer projects.

Village 5th graders make this milestone trek to the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains each year, and for many of them, it’s life-changing. Flip through a few past yearbooks and you’ll find that, when asked to tell their favorite memory of Village School, year after year, graduating kids will consistently pick Walden West Science Camp as the most memorable time of their elementary school years.

For many students, Walden West also marks the first time they’ve spent a week away from home, independent from their parents and siblings. In addition to the rich, immersive science curriculum, the social learning and independence gained from the experience is priceless. Living at camp, immersed 24-hours a day – with students from both their own school and from other schools – offers opportunities to cooperate with each other and make new friends. They might seek to win contests (with rewards such as jumping ahead to the first shower group!) or earn bragging rights in “cabin jeopardy.” All of these activities bring fun and camaraderie to the learning, and quickly ease any nervousness kids might feel by being away from home.

Walden West is owned and operated by the Santa Clara County Office of Education. Through hikes, games and other programs led by trained naturalists (including beloved alum teacher, Ms. Sherry), students learn about forest, meadow and stream communities and the animals that inhabit these areas. The night hike – a highlight of the week – and campfire songs, skits and stories round out the true camp experience.

Each student and counselor chooses a “Nature Name” used during the week, so they have the opportunity within the Science Camp experience to choose their own identity — each a unique reflection of themselves. The bonds of friendship the students form with each other during this shared first burst of independence and experiential learning can last a lifetime.

Their journey to Walden West begins with fundraising. Though the Annual Giving for 5th grade families is increased to partially fund each student’s fees for Walden West, the amount paid only covers about a third of the cost. However, the labor of filling this financial gap provides students with leadership and teamwork opportunities that tie right into the Village Values of respecting others, making good choices and solving problems.

The Gina and The Tonics concert, powered by lead singer Ms. Gina, usually kicks off the fundraising activities for science camp at the end of the 4th grade year, and provides a large portion of the funds needed. On the day of the concert, the event is run by the students, and it’s easy to feel their excitement for taking charge. Last year, the classes now known as the Fearless Falcons, Tropical Tree Frogs and Snowboarding Snow Leopards tirelessly sold concert tickets, yummy baked goods, burritos, souvenirs and raffle tickets, and kept the band comfy in their own “green room.” Student volunteers created not just a fun community event, but also launched the fundraising efforts and grew leadership skills needed to earn their way to camp.

This great Village tradition of fundraising for the 5th grade science camp outing is the culmination of years of collaborative exercises and a maturing appreciation for the volunteer process. Our Falcons, Frogs and Snow Leopards are banding together and have mapped out entrepreneurial opportunities for the coming months. They’ve already washed your camping dishes for tips. Watch for more opportunities to chip in through the winter, including a Pet Faire, after school movies and a Valentine’s dance.