Last week, groups of first graders from Bramlett Elementary School toured Oxford’s own Camp Lake Stephens where they learned about the environment and the roles people and animals play in protecting it.
In the camp’s barn, children were seated on hay bales covered in blankets and listening to Grounds Director Brandon Gooch talk about farm animals. He showed the kids pictures of different kinds of animals around the grounds of Camp Lake Stephens and what could be typically found on a farm. Gooch put up a picture of a cow and asked the kids what we use cows for on farms.
Little hands shot up around the room and kids blurted out “hamburgers,” “milk,” “ice cream” and more. They did the same when asked about pigs, goats and horses. Gooch worked his way through most of the typical barnyard animals, explaining their importance and each of the roles they play in the system that keeps the farm going and a farmer’s livelihood sustained.
Kids were also taken on hike where they learned about the different kinds of flora and fauna in the area. They talked about how to identify trees. They talked about the different types of animals that call the ecosystem their home and who they function within it. Kids get to better understand the lifecycles happening constantly around them.
Camp Lake Stephens is a Christian faith-based camp. A big part of their creed is to teach campers to nurture and protect God’s creation, as they put it.
But when dealing with public schools and other nonreligious groups, they approach it a little differently. They talk about environmental science, why it’s important to protect the planet and all the things it provides for us. A lot of it is the same message, just with slightly different verbiage, and it all comes down to protecting our home.
Darrell Whitaker serves as executive director of the camp. This will be his 15th summer in the position. He began coming to the camp as a boy back in the early 1970s. He returned as a counselor during his time at Mississippi College and later when he was attending seminary.
The camp has no specific environmental education program in place, but they do have the resources to welcome groups on short trips out to the grounds so kids and learn more about the world around them.
“Right now, we’re just kind of word-of-mouth with it,” Whitaker said. “We want people to know that we do offer environmental education opportunities for school groups and home school groups of all ages.”
Whitaker said that the camp uses thoroughly developed lesson plans that tie in to the most recent core curriculum being used by school districts. Students can come to Camp Lake Stephens, spend a day in the woods and in the barn and at the lake, and they will be learning many of the same things they are going over in their classrooms.
“When kids come here, we don’t really like to think of it as a [recreational] fieldtrip as much as it is an educational opportunity,” Whitaker said. “We tie in the teaching to the core curriculum and do so by each grade. They’re going to learn it in the classroom, and then come out here and see it and touch it.”
The property has a creek, a lake and a small wetlands area where visitors can learn more ecology of the three different water systems. They do different kinds of water testing and examine the small ecosystems in each body of water. There’s a camp garden which is used to supply campers with food during the summer months. Campers get to learn about what it takes to sustain a garden maintain a food supply.
For more information about Camp Lake Stephens and the different kinds of programming they offer, visit www.camplakestephens.com or call 662-234-3350.