SDUSD Stories: The Central Elementary Camping Experience

Posted: Friday, June 30th 2017

This week, third grade students from Central Elementary School traded the noise and bustle of City Heights for the clear, open skies of Stelzer County Park, as they headed out to Lakeside for their school’s annual camping trip.

For most of the students, it was the first time they have ever been camping – or even seen a wide open natural space.

The annual program, made possible by the Jarrett Meeker Foundation, brings students along with teachers and staff to learn about Native American culture, San Diego County's plants and animals, and even the stars above. For these kids growing up in the middle of the city, it’s an experience they’ll never forget.

Students meeting a bearded dragon

“Yesterday was my first time eating a S’More,” said one third-grader. A classmate, who had never been outside of the city, was almost too excited to sleep. “It was fun sleeping in the tents, it was all open and we were wondering like, ‘What if an animal came in here too?’ But it was zipped up so it was okay.”

Campers in their tent

Superintendent Cindy Marten, who also camped out overnight as part of the tradition, said the event is a big experience for the students. "Not only is this the first time these kids have been camping, but it’s the first time they’ve stayed overnight anywhere besides their home." 

Marten, who served as principal at Central before she became the district superintendent, still attends the campout as part of a promise to her students made several years ago. “Once you experience something you’ve never experienced before, it changes your life, and it is a memory you hold forever… We find kids 10 years later who remember, ‘we went camping!’”

Students also learned about Kumeyaay Native American heritage from members of the nearby Barona Indian Reservation, studied stars and planets in the night sky through real telescopes from the San Diego Astronomy Club, and got up close and personal with some wild critters thanks to the SD County Parks & Recreation rangers.

This incredible learning opportunity, now in its 11th year, wouldn’t be possible without the help of teachers and school chaperones, the contributions from several organizations and volunteers, and the support of the Jarrett Meeker Foundation. 

"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. The foundation is named for Judy’s son, who suffered an accidental death at age 8, and aims to share Jarrett’s love of nature and the outdoors with children who don’t have such opportunities. “He loved nature, he loved being outdoors,” Judy says proudly. “It made it a natural for us to want to give his experience to other children.”

In addition to the Meeker Foundation, support for the program has come from many generous organizations including the 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, Craft by Cindi Lohry and Iris Meyer, Sky Hunters’ Owl Presentations, Krusin' Kritters Animal Presentation, and Young Audiences.


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