Every year in March, Northlake Elementary School fifth-graders take a full week off to have an adventure at Cispus Outdoor Learning Center near Randle, Wash.
At Cispus, students enjoy time away from school and their parents while receiving an education on the great outdoors. Teachers and counselors try to give students a life-changing experience they will never forget. Cispus is intended to bond students with each other by teaching them outdoor tips while having fun at the same time.
This year's camp began March 17. Students took classes about outdoor survival, wildlife and plants. Other activities included the Star Room, where students learned about stars and constellations. Students also could participate in a "blind hike" walking along a roped pathway holding onto the rope.
"I really loved Cispus. I had a super cool counselor and loved ‘The Hike,' " said fifth-grader Hunter Huffman.
"The Hike" is a brutal-but-scenic 6-mile hike to the glorious Angel Falls. Along the way, students enjoy exploring the lava tube caves. These caves provide a chance for students to rest and regain their strength before finishing the hike.
Northlake Elementary has been involved with Cispus for 13 straight years. This means virtually every high school student who serves as a counselor for outdoor school knows what it is like to be an anxious first-time camper.
"I remember attending Cispus as a student, and it was really great," said R.A. Long High School junior Hannah Johnson. "I hope I can give my kids the same experience I was given by my counselor."
Counselors usually are teenagers from R.A. Long and Mark Morris high schools who formerly attended Northlake Elementary and work in the Teen Mentor Program. Some parents from the community, such as Longview residents Brian Lomack and Ian Thompson, also help out with Cispus, providing an adult leadership presence.
This year, juniors Britton Baker, Sergio Vasquez, Sullivan Carter, Hannah Johnson, Sophie Kangas and Jill Isaacson served as counselors.
Kaleb Carr, a return counselor from 2009, and Nick Bartolus and Taylor Froberg represented R.A. Long's senior class as counselors. Kaitlyn Williams, a 2008 R.A. Long graduate who attended Cispus as a student, also was a counselor.
"I had an amazing time at Cispus last year, but 2010 was even better. It was great to be a part of a student's learning experience," said Carr, an R.A. Long senior.