A virtual Care for Creation camp

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13 October 2020

Leonardo, outside with his tent.The ‘Virtual Care for Creation Camp’ at St Macartan’s School, Mornington, has re-energised the Year 6 students as well as teachers and families. Cynthia Menon, Leader of Learning/Sustainability Leader, shared the following about the experience.

During distance learning, our Year 6 teachers recognised that our students were missing out on many experiences Year 6 usually offers, including camp. St Macartan’s is also a school that has a strong history in education for sustainability, and we wanted this to be a year for students to consolidate learning and be able to take their knowledge and skills beyond primary school.

A distance learning camp addressed both these needs and we chose to have our camp during the ‘Season of Creation’, a time when we join others in our ecumenical family to renew our relationship with creation and our Creator. Our camp focus was ‘Caring for Creation and Each Other’.

Parents gave a positive response: ‘the arrival of the news of an online camp program last night was warmly welcomed’ (members of the Graduation Committee).

Involving the school and the broader community

Our Camp Planning Team assisted with administrative background work, including preparing camp resources and parent letters. This enabled Year 6 teachers to continue to deliver the usual distance learning program in the weeks leading up to camp.

Year 6 teachers made their own suggestions and provided opportunities for student voice. Students requested cooking, trivia, pets, a movie and ‘cabin talk’ be included in the camp – so we did!

We also reached out beyond our school community. Members from Catholic Education Melbourne’s Education for Sustainability Committee provided encouragement and ideas. Our CERES ResourceSmart Schools facilitator, Jason Sheehan, assisted with ideas and was eager to present as a guest speaker.

Archbishop Peter A Comensoli also created a video for students which focused on creation. One step at a time, the camp program started to come together, and the students and their families were engaged.

‘We just read through the itinerary for camp and the boys are super excited! Thank you so much for the extra work you are doing to organise it. See you around the camp fire’ (Cammy, parent).

The Year 6 Virtual Care for Creation Camp

The Virtual Care for Creation Camp included a preparation day followed by two days of camp activities. Students were informed from the beginning of camp that it was something new for teachers also. They were prepared that not everything would go smoothly and teachers modelled healthy risk-taking, problem-solving and resilience.

‘I want to remember that anything is possible, even at home’ (Will, Year 6 student).

Campers set up their own creative tents at home. They packed a small suitcase, prepared a waste-free lunch and took photos of their tents for virtual backgrounds. Activities included a Care for Creation scavenger hunt, friendship escape rooms, ‘Your choice’ activity rooms and ‘Go get a …’ races.

‘It does not matter about COVID-19 and where we have camp, it’s about being together for our last year at school’ (Matisse, Year 6 student).

We used a mix of videos and verbal prayers. Our principal, Colleen McGreal, wrote a prayer which she shared with the students following trivia. Students were then invited to type in their own prayer of intention in the Zoom chat box and these were very moving.

Students reflected on creation and their role as leaders. They took action to educate others about the needs of the earth using Flipgrid and the Earth Speakr app.

The whole camp program was a guide to allow for family flexibility. All evening activities were optional to give families a chance to continue with evening routines, while also providing for students who needed more time to connect with friends via the evening camp program.

‘Three memories I made were connecting with my friends online and having a really good laugh, working together on the escape rooms while problem-solving, and just the overall way we did our camp this year which will definitely be one to remember.

‘My three messages I am going to take out of this are: to always persist when you might not get something first try, to rethink my milk purchases as cow’s milk uses around 1040 L of invisible water, and that we need to have a voice and try and make a change in our world’ (anonymous Year 6 student).

Teaching and leadership evaluation

The camp experience helped teachers to connect with their classes. ‘It was a wonderful opportunity for students to engage in a way that hasn’t been seen before. The camp was a positive experience because students were able to reconnect with their peers and teachers, allowing rapport to be built as if a normal camp was occurring’ (Christopher Sugameli, Year 6 classroom teacher).

‘The Virtual Care for Creation Camp was a unique experience delivered at exactly the right time for our Year 6s who were entering a lockdown online lethargy. The virtual camp re-energised and enhanced the positive wellbeing of the children as they reconnected to the environment, each other and their teachers.

‘Students were encouraged and challenged to use problem-solving skills throughout camp, as well as positive communication when responding to each other online. They took learning risks and were incredibly encouraging towards one another.

‘It was beautiful to hear the laughter of children as they chatted, told jokes and shared their learnings during their breakout camp groups. I know I shouldn’t be, but I was amazed by the contributions our children made to the Earth Speakr app (check it out) and I am so proud of the St Mac’s teaching team for coming up with such a creative and innovative learning experience’ (Colleen McGreal, Principal).

The school also received the exciting news that some of our student messages submitted using the Earth Speakr app have been selected by moderators to be displayed in public spaces across Europe!

This is an extract of an article that was originally published in Director’s eNews on 9 October 2020.