BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — The Kern Environmental Education Program, better known as Camp KEEP, is going virtual this year due to COVID-19.
The program that brings more than 7,000 local fifth- and sixth-graders to the central coast every year for week-long field trips at two residential science schools is now offering a virtual outdoor experience aimed at mirroring the offerings of the traditional program.
The Kern County Superintendent of Schools Office, which runs Camp KEEP, said the virtual five-day program includes live science lessons from KEEP naturalists, pre-recorded virtual hikes and campfire activities as well as science lesson support for classroom teachers.
Normally, KCSOS said students hit the hiking trails to learn about the environment, stay in cabins with their fellow students, eat community meals, playing science games, sing songs around a campfire and more.
“It breaks my heart that many students will miss out on the traditional KEEP experience this year,” said Elizabeth Roberts, principal of KEEP’s Ocean campus. “We just couldn’t imagine letting an entire year pass by without giving students a chance to participate in some way.”
KCSOS said 65 elementary schools from 27 districts in the county have signed up to participate in the program, representing more than 8,000 students.
Centennial Elementary School in the Rosedale Union School District was the first school to participate in the virtual experience, according to KCSOS. Sixth-grade teacher Katie Daines said the school went “all in” with their virtual KEEP experience.
“Some kids slept in tents in their backyards. Some students slept in bedroom forts. Some slept in sleeping bags,” she said. “I even had students make their own face paint!”
Students who participate in the virtual experience receive a KEEP Science Adventure Kit that includes a science journal and tools so they can complete hands-on science activities in their own yards or other outdoor spaces.
“Camp KEEP is not easily replicated in an online, virtual world, but the naturalists did their very best to make this week fun and educational for the kids,” Daines said. “We had whole class discussions and had small groups of students meet in breakout rooms to collaborate with each other about science topics and journaling. I was very impressed.”
For more information about Camp KEEP, visit campkeep.org.