I’m sitting in front of a dozen children between the ages of 6 and 12 explaining the concept of the Columbia Plateau. “It’s like a really wide mountain, but without a peak,” offers one of the older kids when I prompt him to define a plateau. I nod and go on to tell the kids they’re essentially sitting on a giant tabletop, 100,000 square miles in size.
A little girl doesn’t wait to raise her hand.
“I don’t believe you,” she says.
Moments like that made me love my internship.
My name is Noah Dunn. I’m a rising junior hailing from Bellingham, Washington and a double major in German Studies and Environmental Humanities. This summer, I and two other Whitman interns had the opportunity to create and run the first-ever iteration of the Explore! summer camp through Pioneer United Methodist Church in Walla Walla. The camp was the brainchild of Pastor Juil Reinholz. Utilizing the church’s extensive volunteer network, Explore provided two weeks of no- to low-cost summer camp programming for under-served children in the Walla Walla community. Although located at a church, Explore was an explicitly secular program to enable greater community outreach. Our task was to create a financially accessible summer in order to fill the gaps which appear when school is out of session.
The initial weeks of the internship were spent planning, and featured blessedly late starts. Most days began with meetings somewhere on the kinder side of 10am, usually with potential volunteers or church staff. Planning our program was something like trying to play paddy cake with an octopus: enrollment numbers, which were not our responsibility, were still uncertain, as was volunteer availability. Nonetheless, with no small amount of support from our supervisor, we eventually conceived our two-week program.
Many families in Walla Walla rely on school breakfasts and lunches to feed their children- an opportunity unavailable in the summer. Days at Explore began with dropoff and breakfast at 7:30 AM and ended with pickup at 5:00 PM, enabling us to feed our campers breakfast, lunch, and two snacks every day. Children’s literacy is known to atrophy in the summer months, and so each day included classroom lessons, reading, and writing to keep those necessary skills in practice. Of course, kids often refuse to have fun if they think they’re learning, and so each week also featured trips to the Sharpstein Elementary playground, the Milton-Freewater pool, and Pioneer Park. What we interns had enjoyed in late starts and short days in the initial weeks disappeared during the two weeks of camp, when 10-hour days became standard.
Each week was centered around a learning theme. The first, Around the World, focused its lessons and reading on a different country each day, concluding with lessons on the indigenous history of Walla Walla and a visit to the Whitman Mission. The second week, What’s In Our World?, introduced our campers to the natural world around them. As an Environmental Humanities major, I introduced children as young as six to the fundamentals of ecocritical thought—after first convincing them that the Columbia Plateau is, in fact, real. I made it my task to make them question to what degree human activity should take precedence over the machinery of the non-human world and in what ways we can be good stewards of the land we have come to inhabit through violent means. Perhaps most memorable was a spirited debate over the justice of water allocation: using strands of blue yarn, I divided my campers into three teams representing agricultural, municipal, and industrial interests and asked them to convince each other who deserved the most water. Chaos is too mild a word.
I am immensely grateful for the experience I had this summer, and to my colleagues from both Pioneer Methodist and Whitman. As an aspiring teacher, the opportunity to spend time with children in and out of the classroom has proven humbling and instructive, and I hope to carry it into the future.
Experiences like Noah’s are made possible by the Whitman Internship Grant, which provides funding for students to participate in unpaid internships at both for-profit and non-profit organizations. To learn how you could secure a Whitman Internship Grant or host a Whitman intern at your organization, click here or contact Assistant Director for Internship Programs Mitzy Rodriguez