Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Central Elementary continues camping trip tradition

More than 120 students from Central Elementary School continued an eight-year tradition of having an overnight camping trip, learning about the outdoors at the Louis Stelzer County Park in Lakeside.
Central Elementary students learn about rescue dogs. The program, funding by a grant by the Jarrett Meeker Foundation, brings the students from the City Heights school along with teachers and staff to learn about Native American culture, San Diego county's plants and animals and even the stars above.

"This is the first time many of these kids have not only been away from home, but away from their parents overnight," said Superintendent Cindy Marten, who attended based on a promise to her students made in the fall of 2012, before she became the district superintendent.

Students learned about Kumeyaay Indian life from members of the nearby Barona Indian Reservation, owls and rescue dogs from rangers and volunteers from the San Diego County Park and Recreation Department and Sheriffs Department, plus hikes in the park, tent camping, campfires and a camp breakfast. The programs presented are carefully designed to supplement the standard third-grade state curriculum.

"The children from Central live in the middle of the city with very little opportunity to ever experience the outdoors and to camp in a tent," said Judy Meeker, President of the Jarrett Meeker Foundation. Mrs. Meeker and her son, Jon, accompanied the Central kids on the overnight adventure.

Jarrett Meeker suffered an accidental death at age 8. His parents, Judy and Keith, started the foundation in his memory, according to the foundation website, to share their son's "love of nature and people (and) to give kids that aren’t as lucky the same chance to experience and learn about nature as Jarrett had."

"The opportunity that the Meeker Foundation gives the Central kids is outstanding," said Marten. "Over the years, I have seen a profound impact in our kids after they return from the trip. It really opens their eyes and their hearts to the world of nature."

After several years at the San Diego Zoo's Safari Park, the program moved to Stelzer Park to provide a wider range of learning opportunities for the students, said Jon Meeker. Louis A. Stelzer County Park is an approximately 374-acre day-use park and was the first park in San Diego County designed to be handicapped accessible.

In addition to the Meeker Foundation, support for the program comes from San Diego County Sheriff Department Canine Search and Rescue, Lake Murray Kiwanis Club, Boy Scouts Troop 362 Rancho San Diego, San Diego Astronomy Association, Urban Corps of San Diego County, Barona Cultural Center and Museum, Stelzer Park Endowment.

Other support comes from Craft by Cindi Lohry and Iris Meyer, Sky Hunters’ Owl Presentations, Krusin' Kritters Animal Presentation, and Young Audiences.

According to the San Diego Reader, Louis Alexander Stelzer purchased the property as a private retreat in the 1940s, calling it Shadow Mountain Ranch. Upon his death in 1972, he deeded the land to the county so that children would have a place for outdoor education. The park is named in his honor and was dedicated in 1982. It became the first recreational facility in Southern California designed to accommodate visitors of all abilities. Interpretive panels are found on the trails. There is also a large camping area reserved for the use of sanctioned youth groups.

For more information, visit the websites of the Meeker Foundation, Louis Stelzer County Park and Central Elementary School.