June 2019
Greetings from Principal Greg Schuett:

The end of the school year at Cuyamaca Outdoor School (COS) is always an exciting time to reflect on our experiences and look forward to how we can help more students have the experience of a lifetime at camp. We added a few things last year, and plan to build on those successes next year. 

During the 2018-19 school year, we served more than 12,000 students, an increase of about 400 from last year, and added eight new schools and one additional week of camp. We added a vice principal, Kris Pamintuan, who joined us from the Sacramento County Office of Education’s outdoor school program. It was also our first year with a hard-working, fun-loving, energetic camp counselor in each of our six cabins. They became the big brothers and big sisters to our students for the week and had a very positive impact on the students’ experience. On the school grounds, we added a huge solar array that supplies 80% of our electricity needs, refurbished Eastwind cabin, and our maintenance team built three very popular gaga ball (a kinder, gentler version of dodgeball) pits in each of our villages for the students to enjoy at recess. 

Looking ahead, we are planning to refurbish Northwind cabin over the summer, update technology on our campus, redesign our student journal, and add several citizen science classes to our curriculum, including animal tracking and aquatic insect study.

It’s never been a better time to be a student at COS. As we move forward, here’s a by-the-numbers look back at 2018-19:

  • 12,199 - students attended
  • 35 - weeks of camp
  • 124 - schools participated
  • 85,393 - miles hiked
  • 23,398 - citizen science projects completed
  • 736 - stories told in the cabins at night
  • 420 - skits performed on stage at the talent show
  • 12,199 - manzanita or rock crafts made 
  • 5 - snow days
  • 73 - years of connecting students to nature through science 

Onward and Upward!
Greg Schuett
Mark Your Calendars for the Annual Open House Sept. 7
Spend a day in the great outdoors by joining us for the annual COS Open House on Sept. 7.

Parents, students, teachers, principals, alumni, and anyone interested in outdoor education are welcome. Visitors can tour the home of the original 6th Grade Camp in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, meet the camp staff, take a hike, have a picnic, make crafts, and even try rock climbing.

Open House hours are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The address for COS is 12561 Highway 79 in Descanso, but camp is about eight miles from the town. For directions and details, please see the flyers in English and Spanish.

We hope to see you there!
Cuyamaca Royalty Returns to Old Stomping Ground
Not many people know that the former principal at COS, Denver Fox, used to live onsite with his family.

Fox, who served as principal at Cuyamaca, Palomar, and Marston from 1947 to 1971, lived at Cuyamaca for about seven years along with his wife and three kids during his tenure. His middle child, Janice, recently visited camp to talk with current staff about her experiences growing up at Camp Cuyamaca.

At 82, her recollection for details was impressive. She shared a lot of milestone moves for her family, as they lived all over San Diego, but also small things like where the bus used to stop on the road from Julian to Cuyamaca, or where her front door used to stand, or how her dad had to get a skunk out of their house one night. 

“I enjoyed living here. I could always amuse myself,” Janice shared. “I came out all the time and walked around. In the state park, it was always fun. We’d go find a creek in the areas where nobody went. And we’d look for tiger lilies. Our summers were quite adventuresome, fishing and hiking.”

Janice and her siblings would occasionally join the students at camp to watch their skits at the Thursday night talent show, or eat multi-colored pancakes for breakfast with the students. 

Most endearing was how Janice talked about her father’s ability to connect with troubled students. He was big on democratic education and the learn-by-doing philosophy.

“He would teach his 6th graders to run themselves,” Janice said. “He could leave the classroom and the president the kids had elected would have organized everything. The kids would be on task when he got back. It would just come naturally to him.

“He was good with kids with problems,” she said through tears. “Though I’m not sure he could have the same connection with today’s kids,” she added.

To that, Cuyamaca Outdoor Education Liaison Dustin Burns responded, “I think the magic that your father helped create here still exists. When the kids get up here, it takes some time for them to adjust but they turn back into those kids from years’ past," Burns said.
 
Fox died of brain cancer in 1971, but his legacy lives on at COS. One of the more recent buildings built in 2010, which serves as a meeting space, was named Fox Lodge. 

Janice was thrilled to hear that her father’s memory is still alive and well at camp. 

“I’m very pleased frankly, because he put his heart and soul into it,” Janice explained. “And I think we all believed in it. And we loved nature, and if it can help even a few kids, you feel like it’s worth it. He was doing what he was meant to do.”
A Special Week at Cuyamaca Outdoor School
Meetings were convened. Emails were sent. Schedules were made. Forms were completed. Staff were prepared. Bags were packed. Mesa Verde Middle School’s special education team, in conjunction with COS's health care and administration, spent countless hours planning and preparing so that 12 students of varying abilities were ready for their week at 6th Grade Camp.

To every degree possible, students who are in special education participate in most of the same activities that all students attending camp do and are with their peers as much as possible. Although they may face some limitations, accommodations are made so that students participate in alternate, equally engaging activities.

“COS has an off-road trail chair for students with mobility challenges; we have a special archery bow for those students who can’t pull a regular bow, and if needed, we’ll transport students by bus or van to meet up for lunch with their activity group,” Principal Greg Schuett explained. 

Activities for the Mesa Verde students included hiking to a creek where they dipped their fingers in the water, discovered frogs, and crossed log bridges. Up the hill at the Wilderness Recreation Activities Program, they took turns trying to shoot bullseyes and searched for geocaches using GPS devices.

In addition, they also took part in a nature study hike where they studied birds and helped plant coast live oak acorns to help repopulate the forest that is being decimated by the invasive goldspotted oak borer beetles. Students sanded and polished a gypsum rock craft or manzanita wood craft as a take-home souvenir and made new friends during cabin time. And of course, they attended the weekly talent show.

“Students who are in special education, maybe for the first time in their school career, are completely mixed in and participate with their peers,” Schuett said. “They are in the same cabins, in the dining hall, and participate in most or all of the same activities. Depending on their disability or learning challenge, they might be the best hikers in the group, might sing the best songs, or participate in the funniest skit at the talent show. Their fellow students see them in a different light, they see themselves in a different light. Quite often when I meet with the teachers on Friday, the special education teachers in particular are on the verge of tears as they describe the success and growth of the students, the fun they had, and the new friendships their students developed during the week.”

Mesa Verde Middle students finished the week with the all-day adventure hike to Lake Cuyamaca where they viewed the blossoming wildflowers and observed more birds. After a nap and the picnic dinner, everyone enjoyed the songs and skits performed by several of their students during the talent show.

“Students demonstrated curiosity, enthusiasm, perseverance, and determination," said Vice Principal Kris Pamintuan. "The staff demonstrated the utmost patience and worked tirelessly to ensure that each student was well cared for and was able to participate fully in each activity. Everyone had a blast!”

Kris Pamintuan and Monique Lidrazzah contributed to this story.
Instructional Coaching Extends to the Outdoor Classroom
Steve Klass, a retired teacher from the Encinitas Union School District and former SDSU instructor, volunteered one day per week this year as an instructional coach for the outdoor education specialists and interns. He would join instructors and students on their 2.5-hour nature study and videotape the lessons. Klass would then return to camp, review the videos, and provide guidance to employees on instructional techniques. The sessions were strictly between the coach and the instructor, and a great opportunity to assist staff members with professional development. 
 
COS Principal Greg Schuett spoke with Klass about his experience at camp.
 
Q. How many years did you bring your students to COS?  
A. 25 years, from 1983 to 2000 and then from 2009 to 2017 when I retired.

Q. What were some of the highlights during your time at COS?
A. The part I enjoyed most was making friends with the staff. I loved Ernie’s jokes and stories. Jeff and Gregg’s All-Day Adventures were amazing. Leon’s hospitality in the kitchen made us visiting teachers feel so welcome. Also, I’ve enjoyed watching the evolution of the program through the years. It has gone from more of a camp to more of an educational program. COS is a school now where students have fun learning about science and nature.

Q. Why was it important to you for your students to attend?
A. Outdoor school has been a rite of passage for many generations of San Diegans. For many, it is the first time away from home. The experience builds responsibility and independence to a level that cannot be accomplished in the classroom. My students’ parents appreciated that it happened in a safe and supportive environment. I also felt it was very important for my students to connect with nature first-hand, in a way that I could not make happen in the classroom with books and videos.

Q. What made you accept our invitation to become a volunteer instructional coach? 
A. I really enjoy being outside in nature and this gives me an opportunity to do that. I also wanted to give back to the program that meant so much to me during my career as a teacher. I feel that videotaping the instructors during their nature studies and allowing them to see how their instructional techniques impact their students is a valuable learning experience. I had done a lot of video as an instructor at San Diego State University with my college students. There is not enough time for the head teachers to do this so I thought it would be a value-added experience for the staff.

Q. How has the experience been for you?
A. It has been a lot of fun! I look forward to seeing the staff each week and I think they feel it is a helpful and a unique way to see themselves in action.

Q. What impact do you feel it has had on the program and instruction?
A. I think it has increased the depth of knowledge of the instructional staff. I share some of the educational terms and give suggestions that I’ve learned over the years to improve their techniques. But the biggest impact is staff seeing themselves on video. Now they can self-evaluate. They can see how the students respond to them. They can notice details that they otherwise might not catch. For example, did they notice that three students were never called on, or that during one part of the lesson, half the students seemed bored and were getting antsy.

Q. Are you up for another year of coaching?
A. Yes! As long as the staff and administration feel that I can provide a valuable professional development opportunity, I’d like to come back again next year.
Don’t Miss the Memorable Experiences at 6th Grade Camp
COS is the longest operating outdoor school in California. As an SDCOE educational program, COS offers unmatched quality and value. And we create once-in-a-lifetime experiences for our students.

  • Quality Learning Experiences: To maximize students’ ability to build on what they learn on the trail and apply it in the classroom, our fully credentialed teachers have designed lessons focused on the cross-cutting concepts identified in the California Next Generation Science Standards.
  • Real Science: COS students participate in a variety of citizen science projects that connect students with partner agencies and universities to collect and analyze data on various science topics.
  • Passionate, Expert Staff: Lead by Principal Schuett and Vice Principal Pamintuan, school administrators with a combined 62 years of experience in environmental education, our credentialed teachers and classified outdoor education specialists are experts at creating fun and engaging activities that connect kids to science through nature, and to each other through community-building and character development. Making camp memorable for students is what our employees enjoy most. For our team, it's more than a job, it’s their passion!
  • Health and Safety: A registered nurse and two health services technicians (both are certified emergency medical technicians) are employed full-time to manage and support student health needs 24 hours a day.
  • Location, Location, Location: Situated in the beautiful Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, students at COS encounter nature directly through exploring the park’s 25,000 acres.
  • Recreation: In addition to favorites like rock craft and wood craft, students also have the opportunity to engage in rock climbing, geocaching, archery, and a low-elements challenge course.

Nothing highlights the benefits of attending COS more than the photos of students taking part in the hands-on learning, outdoor activities (snow, rain, or shine), writing in their journals, and meeting new people. Each week, photos are posted to Cuyamaca Outdoor School’s Facebook page . See for yourself why a trip to the original 6th Grade Camp is an invaluable experience.

All students should have the opportunity to attend 6th Grade Camp. There are spots open for the 2019-20 school year, and flexible funding options are available to make camp affordable for everyone. Cuyamaca Outdoor Education Liaison Dustin Burns can assist schools with making camp a reality for your students. You can reach him at duburns@sdcoe.net .
This quarterly newsletter will keep you up-to-date on Cuyamaca Outdoor School:
The Original 6th Grade Camp.