For more than 30 years, sixth-grade students at Willis Intermediate School have been learning basic academics in an unconventional way.
Every year, the sixth-grade teams at Willis hop on a bus and go to Camp Wilson in Bellefontaine, where they take part in activities centered on academics. Each team goes for three days and two nights with their teachers and Hayes High School students, who serve as their camp counselors.
Normally, the teams travel in May, where they review what they have learned during the school year. This year, they'll leave Monday, Oct. 1, and return Oct. 10 in order to avoid scheduling issues with graduation, band concerts and other end-of-the-year activities.
Principal Heidi Kegley said the change has an additional bonus for the sixth-grade teams. "Having it at the beginning of the year will allow us to focus on team-building and building relationships between students and teachers that will last through this school year," Kegley said.
Jennifer Shaw, a sixth-grade language arts teacher who has been a part of the camp for 11 years, echoed Kegley's sentiments, saying the timing of the camp will be beneficial.
"You see a different side of the students at camp than you do in a school environment," she said. "Students who don't always shine in the classroom tend to shine at camp. We can take that confidence from camp into the classroom."
Students sharpen their science skills by studying reptiles and amphibians and learn physics and measurements by working with water rockets. They even learn language arts by writing stories about camp and their camp counselors.
Of course, it isn't always learning at camp. Students also will have the opportunity to canoe, fish, make s'mores over the campfire and perform skits for their classmates.
Shaw said she likes watching students try to master the camp's climbing wall. "In the 11 years I have been doing this, watching the students encourage each other on the climbing wall brings out the best in the kids, and it's just so fun to watch," she said.
Shaw said one of the staff members who will attend camp this year actually attended as a student almost 30 years ago. "That staff member has been there since the beginning. Camp Wilson is a wonderful tradition," she said.
Each student has to pay to go to camp, but community donors provide funds so no student has to stay behind. The school also conducts two fundraisers -- selling snow cones on Fridays and holding Hat Day once a month -- to raise scholarship funds for students who may need financial aid to attend camp.
"Our goal is that every student gets to have the camp experience," Shaw said.