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Story Time with Fish

By Josh Vantrease

Hi everybody! For those who I have not gotten the chance to meet, I’m Josh or “Fish” as the 5th graders call me. Everybody who participates in our 3-day Outdoor School program out at Portage Valley has the chance to create a new identity. A camp persona if you will. Some memorable names chosen by kids this Fall were “Fish Sticks”, “Mr. Folks” and “Stinky Sock” – definitely had a fair share of those.

With Outdoor School 2023 having come to a close on September 29th, I thought I’d share one of my favorite memories from the Fall season.  

Week one: On a cloudy September 14th I was strolling along the trail of Blue Ice with a group of 5th graders and the energy was low. Their energy was. Not mine. I was stoked. Here I was, spending my day outside, on a hike, with kids exploring beautiful Portage Valley. What could be better?! To a 10-year-old, apparently a lot of things. Their feet hurt, they were bored, cold, and apparently starving. Then we popped out of the trees and walked over to a lake.  

“Fish! Fish!” they called, “What’s that green stuff in the water?”  

“I don’t know! Let’s reach in and check it out!” I responded.  

And so, we did. As they investigated and giggled over the squishy green stuff that some people call algae, boredom transformed into wonder and curiosity.  

The hike back to the learning center was much different than the way there. Feet were light and the conversation bright. At one point, this little energy ball of a girl told me, “You know, I almost didn’t come to camp. I cried the whole way to school yesterday, thinking of leaving my mom. But I got on the bus! And I am so, so happy I came!! Now I don’t want to leave!”  

One hike, two moments that reminded me how powerful it is to bring nature and adventure into the learning process. I am already getting excited for Snow School.  

Happy winter,

Josh