Harker’s big yellow buses don’t sit idle in the summertime–there are eager campers in color-coded T-shirts headed to destinations near and far.
The planetarium, ice skating, aviation and tech museums, boating, wildlife centers and beaches: Every age group has its own field trips and each camper attends one every two weeks. Children signed up for all eight weeks experience four unique adventures.
Harker’s field trips help set it apart from other summer camps, but the difference is not just in where the kids go and what they do there. Also important is who accompanies them and how.
Shepherding a couple dozen or more children through an off-campus experience doesn’t seem a suitable job for the faint of heart. But it’s not as hard as you might think, says Vanessa Bullman, Harker’s calm, competent and unflappable program director. The campers wear their identical camp T-shirts on field trip days, she says, “and we always bring plenty of staff. At Harker, it’s always ‘safety first.’”
“We do this all the time,” adds Kelly Espinosa, director of summer programs, “and we train our staff very well.” In fact, it’s not uncommon for children from other camps to approach Harker counselors on a field trip because they are very visible and accessible, she says. “They are the ones out there doing the activity with the kids.”
Staff members are deployed strategically by the program planners, who expertly assess each location. As an example, Espinosa says, “We noticed that one venue has a door to the outside in a place that is not usually monitored. So we put a staff member there for the entire time we are there.”
Of course, the kids don’t know about all the planning and training that precedes an off-campus adventure. For them, the experience starts with getting on the bus. Here, as in other areas, Harker has a clear built-in advantage. “Parents like that we use our own buses for field trips, with our regular Harker bus drivers,” says Espinosa. “The kids get to know the drivers as part of the staff.”
And when they get off the bus, the campers should find an experience that is stimulating and a little bit different. “We try to offer field trips that are really fun, and either new to most kids or something they don’t get to do very often,” says Bullman.
Shonak Gosh, Gr. 1, said he enjoyed touring the Hiller Aviation Museum this summer with his group, the Owls (Gr. 1-2). Besides seeing the exhibits and making an airplane in a workshop, his favorite aspect of the trip was “getting to turn on the radio in an airplane.”
The staff consistently incorporates new field trips while keeping and refining favorites for each age group. Since most campers attend the same camp session (A or B) each year, the trips are rotated annually. At the end of the two-year cycle, the campers have moved into the next age group–and on to different field trips.
A perennial favorite with the kindergartners is Ardenwood Historic Farm in Fremont. There they can see a variety of farm animals and a working garden, and learn about such activities as grinding corn and making rope.
Kelle Sloan, program director, says that the students really enjoy just walking around experiencing such a different environment. She adds, though, that the biggest highlight in the past has been a ride on a historic 1885 North Pacific Coast Railroad flatcar pulled by draft horses.
At the other end of the age spectrum, the Eagles (Gr. 5-8) enjoy temperature extremes. One week they go ice skating, and another they head to the beach in Santa Cruz (lifeguards in tow) for an afternoon filled with games, water play and a sandcastle-building contest.
Meanwhile, the Condors (Gr. 3-4) traveled recently to Natural Bridges State Park. There, the campers divided into groups and embarked on a docent-led nature walk. Alexandra Janssen, Gr. 4, said that her group received an impromptu visit from a painted lady butterfly and “we got to see this really cool, mossy lake. It was all greenish on top because of duckweed.” Alexandra loves the field trips her group takes. “I like that they are really fun and educational, but they are not too educational because they still have the fun in them,” she says.