Rancho Santa Fe middle schoolers overcome fears, learn about leadership at camp


By Karen Billing

For the first time, Rancho Santa Fe School’s middle schoolers attended a weeklong camp at the Pali Institute, a new camp experience for the school. Over 200 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students opted to go to camp on the last week of October at Pali in Running Springs, about 2 1/2 hours north in the San Bernardino Mountains.

“It really united us as a middle school,” said eighth-grader Noah Alewal of the opportunity for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders to go on one trip. “It brought us all together.”

In the past, middle schoolers went to Camp Marston in Julian, but Principal Garrett Corduan suggested Pali as it was such a success at his previous school district in Murrieta.

Rancho Santa Fe School District Trustee Marti Ritto reported at the Nov. 6 board meeting that her daughter had attended both Camp Marston and now Pali, and said that this year’s camp was fun and was “a lot more school,” which the board members liked hearing.

The focus for sixth- and seventh-graders was on outdoor education and science. Eighth- grade campers also received outdoor education, but emphasis was placed on leadership. All students learned about topics such as ecology and geology, learned outdoor skills, went on hikes and tried their hand at archery.

Seventh-grader Charlie Mossy said they got to check out different animals such as toads and turtles, and did a dissection of a squid.

As part of the outdoor skills, sixth-grader Claire Jiang said students were tasked with building a shelter. She said their group found a cool spot to build their shelter, but opinions differed on how they should build it until one student stepped up to find a resolution.

“He became a better leader because he stopped the fight,” Claire said.

Rowe Camp 2Claire’s shelter even included a place to sit and a footrest, and they had so much extra time, they even built a “guest house.”

The students also had to make artwork out of items found in their surroundings.

“It was cool to see everyone else’s creations,” said eighth-grader Janna Shakiba, who made a piece she called “layers of life” with leaves and rocks. “It was really amazing what people were able to do with what they found in nature.”

The eighth graders got to do a 700-foot quad zip line. They had to start off by climbing a 45-foot cargo net to the take-off platform.

“At first I was really scared. You really had to overcome any fear you had and take a risk,” Janna said.

The zipline was a camp highlight for Noah.

“Not only was there a really awesome view, but I had to face my fear of heights,” Noah said.

Noah said he was clutching the board of the tiny take-off platform “for dear life” until he had to push himself off and take the leap.

“I looked around in the air and I was amazed,” Noah said. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Rowe Camp 3Sixth-grader Luca Csathy said the sixth- and seventh-graders were similarly challenged by the ropes course — 45 feet in the air — mastering several different aerial challenges like jumping onto a trapeze.

“It wasn’t all adults that supported you — kids had to volunteer to help you,” Luca said. “You had to build dependence on other people. You had to build trust.”

“My friend said I gave her confidence,” Claire said. “She was scared, and when she saw me, I motivated her to go on.”

Seventh-grader Lucas Luwa said his favorite activity was the ropes course. Even though he was afraid, “I still went on,” he said, adding that he got a lot of support from the Pali counselors.

Noah said all of the counselors were fun and taught them a lot about life in general and being a leader.

“One of my favorite activities was an astronomy night hike because I’ve never seen so many constellations. It was so pretty,” Jana said.

Luca agreed, saying what was most memorable for him were the sunrises and sunsets. “The sky was rainbow color and there were silhouettes of black,” Luca said.

The campers stayed in cabins and slept on bunk beds. Janna said while it got really cold at night, their cabins were heated, so they were comfortable when they went in at night, sometimes playing games before going to bed.

The campers had to share two bathrooms and were challenged to take three-minute showers, further lessons in time management and strategy and as Noah noted, water conservation in this time of drought.

All of the students raved about the food, which included sloppy Joes, tacos, ice cream sandwiches and even a night with orange chicken and miso soup.

Several students gave the camp the ultimate stamp of approval: They would not only suggest camp to friends next year, but they would also go a second time.

“I want to go back for the summer,” Noah said.