Liam Stewart – Farm Camp

LaGuardia High School in Manhattan

Marad Banks – Newark Camper


Liam Stewart – Farm Camp

Liam Stewart is a self-described nerd. He’s even part of a group at school who call themselves “Nerds 1.0.” Liam is not athletic, but academically inclined. He and his friends are not into sports, they are scholastic achievers, play musical instruments, and aremore likely to be found in debate club or preparing for Science Olympiad than hanging out at the local Starbucks or skateboarding in the local park.

Liam has his own website and has written iPhone apps. He’s active on Facebook and spends hours on the internet – not with video games – but researching medical sites, looking up info on geology, and anything to do with science. He’s fully wireless, with his own iTouch.

What’s a kid like that doing at Frost Valley’s Farm Camp, beyond cell service and without wifi?

Why, the animals, of course! Cows, pigs, goats, sheep, and chickens. He really likes animals.

Liam came to Frost Valley YMCA sleep-away camp for the first time, as an Eco-Adventures camper between his 4th and 5thgrade years. He liked it quite a bit. His group had done an overnight and were hiking in the East Valley when a storm came up and they took refuge at the Farm. It was then that he discovered his passion for Farm Camp.

At first it may have had something to do with the food at the Farm and the fact that he’d been eating what they had packed as part of their trip. The food was so good at the Farm! It was so fresh. The kids pulled berries off the bushes and picked beans off the vine. And those yurts! The animals! They were so big. You could go right up to them in the barn, inspecting them closely.

The following summer he returned to Frost Valley to attend Farm Camp. He loved those yurts. Staying at the Farm was closer to camping than sleeping in the lodges at Main Camp. He was so happy being at the Farm. The counselors were great and the leadership at Farm Camp was a perfect fit for him.

Not being good at sports didn’t seem to matter at Farm Camp. There were so many other activities. He even learned a few Chinese characters from one of the international staff members who had come all the way from China to be a part of the Farm Camp community.

He especially loved the freedom of being away from his parents. Liam is an only child and, as he told his parents, it’s a great feeling to “not have all the focus be on me all the time.” His family lives in suburban New Jersey with pet cats. He would love to have chickens, roosters, cows, and pigs in the back yard but it’s not possible. For now he’s got his memories of the animals at Farm Camp and knowledge of the fact that he never missed his computer at the Farm.

Although he remains Facebook friends with the kids who shared his Farm Camp experience, they all learned a new meaning for ‘wireless network.’

LaGuardia High School in Manhattan

The “Fame” School, celebrated in the 1980 film, is a specialized school for conservatory arts and college preparatory academics. It has a huge student body with three sections for its Environmental Science Advanced Placement course. This interdisciplinary module, taught by Neal Singh, focuses on understanding the natural environment and alternative solutions for its vulnerability to human-made problems. Neal was researching field trip locations for his group of almost 100 students when Frost Valley YMCA was recommended to him. Because his curriculum covers:

  • the importance of forests and how forests affect water (not only in the area where the forests are but in the cities)
  • acid rain and its effects on the watershed
  • watershed stewardship and general stewardship of the earth
  • rivers, lakes, streams, and riparian zones

Frost Valley was the perfect location. We offer all these aspects, and more, in our outdoor laboratory for hands-on science instruction.

With over 100 activities, Frost Valley’s school programs can be tailored to the specific needs of each school. From an array of choices, teachers select those which exactly coincide with what they want for their stay.

Neal brought 82 students from this school in Lincoln Center. The goal of the trip was for the students to experience the natural life of the woodlands, encounter the varieties of its fresh water, and connect with the flora and fauna. The abstract concepts the students were working with in the classroom would become tangible. He also wanted the students to see the results of acid rain studies which are available at Frost Valley through our partner organizations working at our site. According to Neal:

The trip was extremely beneficial to the students. They were able to do hands-on experiments, bringing the classroom elements to life, making the watershed real to them. They came in contact with the components of the land upstate which directly affect New York City’s water. By being in the watershed, they got a better understanding of the whole process.

All the students found it to be one of the best things about the class this year. They loved it! They really enjoyed all facets of it. It was extremely informative – it tied up a lot of questions they had in class – on the watershed, forest, and fresh water.

When you live in the City, the ‘watershed’ is abstract. If the closest you get to woodlands is Central Park, your understanding of how forests affect the water that comes out of your faucet is purely conceptual. Every generation makes decisions affecting their water. We want informed citizens. These kids need to know that what happens to the country-side where their water comes from will affect their daily life. They will, essentially, be drinking their decisions.

The trip to Frost Valley completed the entire experience for the students. It was extremely rewarding and satisfying. It met our goals on every level. This is a place we will definitely explore next year.

The Frost Valley staff was extremely knowledgeable and accommodating. They helped me teach what I needed to convey and brought a lot of knowledge to the students that we don’t get in the text. I felt they were experts in that area.

The residential experience itself and the dorms were beyond our expectations. Very comfortable and, in general, the accommodations were met all the standards I had set.

The kids were relating to each other in a way that doesn’t happen during the school day because they were not all from the same specialized classes. The students bonded. They had shared experiences and were able to get to know their classmates on another level, a different level. They were very supportive in a way that I’d never seen in school. There were no discipline issues. Students genuinely enjoyed their learning experience there. And many of them have asked to come back next year.

We’ll have to raise the money again by writing grants, asking for gifts from the parent association, alumni, and friends, and the students must pay a part of it, too. The scholarship we received from Frost Valley was necessary because we have students at our school who come from every socio-economic background. The Frost Valley scholarship allowed us to bring students who couldn’t pay their portion. Some of them had not been out of the City before.

Marad Banks – Newark Camper

Marad Banks is 12 and lives in Newark. Even though his mother, Shalitha Banks, works full time, she keeps very close tabs on him. Before he came to Frost Valley summer camp for the first time in 2009, he had never stayed overnight anywhere.

Because of the people she spoke to at Frost Valley and the people she spoke with about Frost Valley, Shalitha felt confident that Marad would have a good experience. And according to Marad, “It was amazing.”

While there are African Americans and Hispanics at his school, at Frost Valley Marad became friendly with Asians, Caucasians, and people from other countries. His counselor in 2010, Will Holt, is from England. Marad spoke about Will and his experience at camp in this way:

Will was really nice, he taught everybody inclusiveness and friendship and he taught how camp was a community. Everybody was gentle and not trying to start any problems with anybody — not like at school. Where I’m from the people are not that friendly. Outside — you walk outside and you don’t know what’s going to happen. My school is right next to a park, there’s a lot of criminals. You don’t know what their intentions are; they could be trying to harm you. But at Frost Valley you feel safe and you know whatever you do is gonna be fun.

Will understood everything that we had to say to him. That made me feel really good. At school, camp had a good affect on my behavior. I’m not the best student, but if you work hard to do what you have to do you’ll succeed. They taught that me at camp. If someone felt bad Will would try to get the whole cabin talking and it made that person feel better – inclusiveness. He didn’t ignore anybody. That made everybody also be inclusive.

I worked hard to get the eight core values. Will makes a list and when we show a core value he writes it down. My first year I got all eight. Last year I just got seven. Like if you try to help someone or you’re trying to include somebody, they he would put it down as to that was the kind of person I am. I’m a very caring person.

Devotions was my favorite time because you get to know everybody and get to know what everybody feels about being at camp. The counselors ask us to rate our day – if someone says a five, you might need to help that person make them feel how you felt when you’re a 10.

We had to sleep outdoors one night and I was really scared, but it turned out to be really fun. My counselors made it really fun for us.

One time everybody was getting letters from parents and my mom wasn’t used to email, and I was the only one sitting there without my letters. That made me feel bad, I can’t explain the feeling. Will asked me why I was feelin’ bad and I told him and he said it’s not like she doesn’t want to send it, but she can’t do it immediately. It made me feel determined that I was going to get one after the talk my counselor had. Then a day or two went by that I didn’t get one, I was still looking forward to getting one and he supported me in that and then I got one. Everybody was giving me high-fives.

One time I told him that one of the other cabin members makes me feel really annoyed. He gave us the opportunity to talk to each other. That resolved a lot of things. I said I know I’m not perfect, but if we could both do stuff to not aggravate each other we’d have a better relationship in the cabin. Will facilitated that. I use that at school. Certain people, not all people, you can play with. Some people have a really bad temper. Don’t always try to retaliate to everything that happens because sometimes retaliation can get you in a deeper situation that the one you’re in. Somebody talked bad about my grandma and she had passed away. Somebody said something about it. Being atFrost Valley taught me not to retaliate. I took him to the side when there was nobody around and told him how I felt about it and he apologized. Made us even closer than if I would have retaliated.

My counselor always had the solution for everything. Once you told him the problem, he always made it better.

At the end he wrote me a note saying I was a really good kid with a good head on my shoulders and I would go far in life if I kept being the kind of person I was at camp. Made the bond that I have with him stay strong.