Friday, July 19, 2013

Camp Tejas 2013 - "The Main Thing"


A few of my Waller Kiddos

I've just spent the last 5 days at a children's camp in Giddings, Texas called Camp Tejas!  This was my 14th year to attend, and every time summer I go I'm reminded how much of an impact this camp has.

Now I've never had any of my posts be super religious.  I have tried to keep my blogging account one that separates my personal and professional life.  But recently I've been blogging about things that were more personal and this week reminded me that why shouldn't I share every part of my life?

Camp Tejas is a camp ground in Giddings that rents out to different organizations, and every year I attend with three churches; First Baptist Brenham, First Baptist Longview, and First Baptist McAllen.  Like I said earlier in the post, I have attended every single summer as a helper for the last 14 summers.  This camp has meant so much to me.  Why?  Because being at this camp allows me to be completely self-less and invest in kids 24 hours a day for five days.  This year about 300 kids from all over Texas attended with us, and the even more exciting part was that 14 of my fifth-grade students were able to attend with me.

This year though I was really torn about attending camp tejas as I have become more and more active in presenting and attending conferences and two awesome ones happened the same week as Tejas; Podstock and Densi.  But God really laid it on my heart that he wanted me at Tejas, and now I know why.

I started inviting my students to attend with me about 4 or 5 years ago, and have brought students every year since (except for last year because during sign ups I was getting married and didn't get the info out to my students in time :(

This year 14 of my students attended.  Now what's so awesome about camp is I get to interact with those students in a totally different environment then I did every day for the last school year.  I also get to spend a ton of time with them getting to know them more personally and getting to really share a personal part of my life that I can't always share at school; my faith.

My faith has always been a huge part of my life.  One that guides every decision I make and is the reason for who I am today.  It is the reason that I have always firmly believed that as educators we MUST connect with students on a personal level.  We MUST get to know them, allow them to get to know us, because that is the ONLY way we are going to reach kids.

This year though at camp was different.  I'm still not quite sure why though.  But this year I was able to bond with my students (and other kids at camp) more than I ever have before.

One boy in particular touched my heart.  He is one that I had spent the ENTIRE year trying to get more than one sentence a day out of him (he just didn't talk much).  But he signed up for camp which still surprises me.  And he followed me around EVERYWHERE I went, but I got to really invest in him this week, and I got to see him open up, and by Thursday he was talking up a storm.  I sat on a bunk with him and three other kids the last night and we talked for almost 2 hours just about life.  You could really tell that some of these boys had never had anyone really care about them in a more personal way.

There was another set of twin boys who were able to attend.  They have always been those "problem children" that every teacher dreaded having in class. But this year my school teaching team and I put a lot of effort into them and really connecting with them.  It still blows my mind that they even WANTED to come to camp, but at camp I got to see those boys bloom in an environment where they were treated with love, respect, and surrounded by people who genuinely cared about them.  It was so great to watch them step up and be men.  And I know these memories are memories they will have for a lifetime.

The coolest part of the week though was night 3. What I love about my church, is that they are so passionate about me bringing my students all the way from Waller, that my church paid for 4 of my students to attend, and two of my teacher friends helped pay for 2 others to attend.  I love that, because my students would have never been able to afford it otherwise (it's $280 per kid to attend).  But Four of my students were in a different Rec group than me.  The 3rd night their leader came up to me to tell me that all four had come up to him during the worship service and asked to become Christians and learn more about their faith.  Wow.  I was blown away...especially since 3 of those were students who wouldn't have been able to attend without the $280 scholarship they each received.  Even now I'm constantly reminded of God's awesomeness.

There are so many more stories like that, and thinking about them now I'm sitting here crying at my computer.  Those kids have touched my heart.  And every year I say that about my students, but it's true.  They are my family.  And camp this week just reaffirmed to me that when we truly connect with kids we can change their lives.  We can remind them that they matter.  That they are important.  And most of all that they have a place in this world.

Saying no to a few professional opportunities was tough.  But if I had to go back and decide all over again, I wouldn't even hesitate.  Camp Tejas would be my choice all over again.

www.camptejas.org