Camp experience bolsters DES staff

Posted on: Sep 8, 2017

Camp experience bolsters DES staff

Every school year brings its own challenges, so in preparation for 2017-18 Delano Elementary School staff members honed their teamwork and collective confidence with a unique field trip of their own.

About 65 teachers tackled high ropes courses, climbing towers, a commitment bridge, leaps of faith, zip lines and more at the YMCA’s Camp Ihduhapi in Loretto on Wednesday, Aug. 30.

“This was one of my favorite staff development activities we’ve ever done,” said second-grade teacher Linda Schmidt. “In 30 years I’ve been here I’ve never done anything quite like that.”

“It was a lot of fun,” said kindergarten teacher Marcie Ludwig. “It was unique and different, and I liked that. You had to try something new that maybe you had never done before, so it kind of pushed you outside of your normal box. That was good because we’re often pushing kids to try new things in the classroom, and this helped us to understand how we feel when we are pushed out of our comfort zones. It helps us to relate a little bit more to kids in that way.”

DES Principal Darren Schuler said the activity helped build a sense of camaraderie among staff members who in some cases do not cross paths very often.

“We divided the staff up so that they weren’t with their same grade level or department,” he said. “It was a unique day. We’ve never gone offsite for team-building activities before.”


The day began with an hour of large group games and problem-solving activities in a setting similar to the morning meetings held at school.

“Some of this we can implement into our classrooms, the games we played as a group that taught trust and cooperation,” said second-grade teacher Julie Williams. “I think we can adapt that to meet the needs of our students as we start the year and get to know them, and as they get to know each other.”

After that the teams broke up to attempt various challenges. Teams were randomly assigned to the events, so members did not have an opportunity to choose one they preferred.

“I thought that was valuable because we didn’t really know what to expect and we were just encouraged to try,” said Ludwig.

Ludwig’s team had to negotiate a wall obstacle that included beams, tires and a cargo net. Others, like Schmidt and first-grade teacher Alison Conely, braved the commitment bridge. In that activity two individuals walk out on gradually diverging cables, helping one another to balance along the way.

“The farther you go the farther apart you get, so you have to lean upon each other and strengthen each other to keep moving across the cable,” said Schmidt.

“I was grouped with people that I typically don’t get to see or work with much during the school day, so it was nice to get to know them better and form a stronger connection with them,” said Conely. “Having a shared positive experience was a great way to get to know my co-workers better and a reminder to lean on each other throughout the school year to create a great learning environment for our students and staff.”

Other challenges included clambering up a 40-foot tower, leaping from a 25-foot telephone pole while the rest of the team cooperated to safely belay the jumper to the ground, and a high ropes course that presented various obstacles about 35 feet above the ground.

Facing challenges

Fear of heights and the physical nature of some of the challenges presented more imposing hurdles for some staff members, but Schuler said there was value in the experience even for those who did not complete a particular challenge.

“Even people who were afraid of heights at least tried,” he said. “So many people surprised me with their willingness to try, their effort. Some decided to go back down, but then their job was to cheer on the others and be the best team member they could be. That was part of the message we wanted to get across to staff: In a difficult year with lots of transitions and construction going on across the district, we need to support each other.”

No teachers were obligated to complete a challenge they did not feel they could handle.

“That also helped symbolize how in our rooms there are students who are not comfortable doing certain things, so it gives you that empathy for differences,” said Schmidt.

Schuler said that after receiving very positive feedback from staff he would “absolutely” consider doing a similar retreat in the future.

“There was a lot of laughter, but it was also challenging,” said Williams. “We did a lot of things that were maybe a little out of our comfort zone, but we built that support and trust, and it was just a lot of fun.”