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Outdoor classroom has been teaching kids for 30 years

The 30th year of the annual Grangeville sixth grade campout took place last week at Girl Scout Campground past Fish Creek. Here, Tate Johnson, Quincey Daniels and Ryan Waite trek back from a survival skills session.

Photo by Lorie Palmer
The 30th year of the annual Grangeville sixth grade campout took place last week at Girl Scout Campground past Fish Creek. Here, Tate Johnson, Quincey Daniels and Ryan Waite trek back from a survival skills session.

— GIRL SCOUT CAMPGROUND — Pristine beauty, rugged dirt roads and a blazing fire make for an inviting campground. Add 50 sixth-grade students, a plethora of parent, teacher and community volunteers, and it’s Grangeville’s annual outdoor classroom event, or what’s commonly called The Sixth Grade Campout.

For the past 30 years, students have packed up their tents and sleeping bags while parent and school volunteers gather food and teachers get curriculum ready for the three-day, two-night sleepover. This takes place just past Fish Creek on a Forest Service camping area commonly referred to as the Girl Scout Campground.

This year, students from Grangeville Elementary Middle School, Sts. Peter and Paul and homeschooled kids participated in the campout that started Tuesday morning and wrapped up Thursday afternoon.


Here, Matt Blackmer and Ethan Taylor practice their first-aid skills.

Mountain View School District 244 nurse Tracy Baune was on hand to teach first-aid skills.

“When I was preparing to come up here, I let my [Grangeville High] sophomores know I wouldn’t be in class the next day and they all said, ‘Oh, we remember the sixth grade campout!’” Baune laughed. “It’s a big deal and a fun time.”

GEMS teacher Steve Wassmuth has been participating in the camp for about the past 20 years, even though he has only taught sixth graders for a few years.

“When Pete Lane was a sixth grade teacher he was also coaching football, so on game night I would head up after school and he’d head down,” Wassmuth said. “I would stay and work with the kids and he would come back late at night, after football.”

The commitment Lane exhibited all those years ago still exists. Although he retired from teaching a few years ago, he still helps with the campout he and now retired teachers Lisa Davis and Cris Cunningham helped to implement.

Students spent time team building, tree climbing and rappelling, compass reading, learning about archaeology, forestry, plants, wildlife and stream life, and practiced survival and first-aid skills. They also sang, had a scavenger hunt and performed skits.

“It’s definitely a highlight and a chance for these kids to work together on a different level,” Wassmuth said.

Students may or may not realize all they are learning; however, math, science and writing skills are all used as kids journal, figure, read GPS and compass coordinates and practice life skills such as fire building and tent setup.

This year, Wassmuth said, is a special year as not only the campout celebrates 30 years, but the group was also able to purchase its own tree climbing and rappelling rope, harnesses, helmets and additional equipment.

“When [former GEMS principal] Ken Pollworth passed away, his wife, Marcia, left us some funds from his estate which allowed us to purchase that climbing equipment,” Wassmuth explained.

In years past, University of Idaho and other organizations have loaned or brought in the climbing paraphernalia.

“We are very fortunate to now have our own. Ken really believed the sixth grade campout was a great thing and we so appreciate his family thinking of us,” Wassmuth added.

And that climbing challenge was vastly popular among the students.

“I like the tree climb and the spider web [team trust] challenges,” said Aliyah Pineda, who said she was glad her dad could accompany her on the campout.

“I liked the tree climbing up and down challenge, too,” added Cheyenne Brown.

“Climbing the tree to the top and ringing the bell was the most fun,” said Demi Klapprich.

“I liked that and also building the fort [shelter] in the survival skills part,” said Talia Brown.

“I really liked climbing up the tree and looking down on everyone all little below,” grinned Taryn Godrey. “But I was a little scared and I felt a bit shaky.”

Taryn said she slept great when two friends climbed into her tent with her and her partner, but her mom, Cindy, was a little more wakeful in her area.

“It was really quiet … except the coyotes, the wolves … and a couple people snoring pretty loudly,” she laughed, admitting she didn’t get much sleep.

Elwyn Johnson, whose grandson, Tate Johnson, was at the campout, drove up each day to participate.

“It’s a lot of fun,” he said.

Wassmuth could see on Thursday the kids were starting to get tired toward the end of their time.

“We keep them really busy,” he smiled. “I think there’s only been about 45 minutes of free time. Otherwise, they have been scheduled from 6 a.m. to lights out at 10 p.m.”


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