Fifth-grade teachers back Shaver’s Creek experience

To the editor:

In light of the recent publication of issues raised concerning Shaver’s Creek Outdoor School, the fifth-grade teachers of the Mifflin County School District would like to inform the public about this program and clarify our position as participants.

MCSD classes have been involved in Outdoor School for over 35 years. The program is a four-day, three-night educational experience at Camp Blue Diamond, a fully-accredited camp in Huntingdon County. It is run by Penn State University through the Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center. Each day students are taken through modules of science (ecology/animal studies), history, and writing. In addition, it offers a well-rounded schedule of team-oriented, learning activities and social interactions for all students. All time at ODS is structured and supervised by adults with FBI clearances.

The cost of ODS is $150 per student. This money covers the cost of the facility, meals, and the program itself. The facility includes a beautiful, heated lodge with a dining hall and a large open activity area. Students stay in heated cabins a short distance from the lodge with 6-8 students and two counselors per cabin. Hot showers and restrooms are located between the lodge and the cabins. All 10 meals are hot and served family-style. In addition, a cereal bar is offered with breakfast, a salad bar with lunch and dinner, and a daily snack is provided. The program itself includes both morning and afternoon outdoor classes and structured evening activities.

Instructors include graduate and undergraduate students in environmental education, and all counselors are enrolled in degree programs at PSU or Juniata College. All adults on site have FBI clearances. No single adult/child interactions are permitted. All interactions involving one child must have two adults present.

As the MCSD can no longer afford to contribute to the cost of this experience (they did so for fewer than 10 years), each student is responsible for raising their funds via high-profit fundraisers begun in fourth grade or by personal donations to their ODS account. Parents are notified of the cost and fundraising arrangements during the first weeks of school or before. Many additional notifications go out during the year advising parents of their child’s financial progress. The cost of transportation (approximately $1,000 per 3-class team) is currently paid through the generosity of our Home and School Association. In response to the perceived high cost of ODS, examples of other four-day camps in our region include PSU Bug Camp (day only, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.) for $275 and PSU Wrestling Camp (overnight) for $440. In comparison, ODS is a bargain.

Although the cost is, indeed, an issue, the benefits of this program are beyond cost. Many students may not remember everything they learned in fifth grade, but none forget their experience at Shaver’s Creek. Ask any former MCSD fifth grader. This experience is a singular highlight of their public education in the MCSD. It provides an open-air classroom with meaningful lessons and activities, teamwork, music, fun, and a respite from all things electronic. As fifth-grade teachers, we value this program enough to leave our own homes and families for four days and three nights and participate 24/7 with our students. The experience provided here cannot be replicated in any classroom. While there are surrounding school districts waiting for an opportunity to participate in ODS, the MCSD is privileged to be a well-established part of the program. May it remain so for years to come.

Fifth-grade teachers of the

Mifflin County School District

Donald J. Bell

Anthony D. Berich

David R. Byler

Nicole D. Chambers

Megan M. Douty

Jennifer L. Esh

Paula S. Getz

Deborah M. Filson

Gary R. Henry

Steven N. Himes

Kristin N. Kauffman

M. Elizabeth Knepp

Kevin M. Loht

Deanna R. Monroe

Kevin J. O’Donnell Jr.

Anna H. Saylor

Diane W. Stewart

Laura C. Stimely

Richard A. Strausburg

Emily A. Walker

Steven K. White