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Busbee Creative Arts Academy students get back to nature at camp Leopold

West Columbia, SC - It’s not often that teachers like things to get wild in the classroom.

But getting wild -- as in back to nature -- is exactly what educators with Busbee Creative Arts Academy are encouraging this week, with student trips to Camp Leopold in Pinewood.

The STEM-based environmental education program draws thousands of third- through seventh-graders annually to learn in an outdoor classroom through activities like canoe trips, hikes, challenge courses and more. Classes from 85 schools have visited the South Carolina Waterfowl Association camp from last spring through this fall, according to Ed Paul, director of education programs.

Forty-eight Busbee students attended camp earlier this week, and more are heading there Thursday, thanks in part to scholarships from several area businesses. While it was Busbee’s first time at Camp Leopold, other Lexington Two schools previously have attended.

“Camp Leopold was a great place for our students to visit, as many of them have never participated in some of the activities that were provided,” said Busbee assistant principal Stephanie Smith Hucks, who went on the trip with students earlier this week. “Only one or two kids had ever been in a canoe (and it was also my first time in a canoe as well). This was the first overnight school trip for most of the kids ... It was great to see them bond together and talk about other things that were not school-related.”

Camp activities focus on wildlife, wetlands and upland ecology, with a curriculum designed to help students and teachers achieve academic standards in science, reading and math in a hands-on, outdoor classroom. Classes are adventurous, with Busbee students enjoying offerings like Wetlands or Badlands, Spineless Wonders and Their Blood Runs Cold. Campers also might see some of the camp’s inhabitants, including whitetail deer, reptiles, wild turkeys, hawks and more.

“My favorite part of working with the students is seeing that special moment when students step outside of the norm and try new things, and realize that nature has so many things to offer, and by understanding nature we can positively impact our surroundings,” said Paul, who attended as a camper in 1998 and started working full-time with the South Carolina Waterfowl Association’s youth programs in 2010.

Camps, offered over 1-, 2- or 2 ½ days, try to instill a new appreciation for the land and how humans can positively and negatively affect it.

“I feel the students gain perspective on nature and develop a personal land ethic,” Paul said. “They now understand that we take many things for granted and that stepping away from technology and getting outside in nature is a privilege rather than a punishment!

Smith Hucks said there were many special moments for students on the trip, including sharing stories around a campfire after a day of camp learning.

Smith Hucks, too, said she had her own memorable moment.

One student, Smith Hucks said, was too afraid to hold a snake during one of the classes on reptiles. Smith Hucks admitted that she, too, was afraid of snakes. But later in the day, during free time, Smith Hucks said camp leaders brought the snakes out for students to hold.

“I looked at the same student and said I’m scared of snakes too, but how about we get over our fear of them and hold one?” Smith Hucks said. “And we did it! Not only did we get over our fear of snakes, but I was able to make a personal connection with him and neither of us will ever forget that.

“It’s the little things that I hope students will take away from the camp. .. memories that they will be able to talk about in years to come,” she added. “Of course we want them to be very knowledgeable about content standards, but we also want them to grow their confidence, try new things, explore, and be problem solvers. The kids loved Camp Leopold, and so did the adults!”

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