Ten-year old Haley Garcia said her week at Jack L. Boyle Outdoor School at Camp Green Meadows was her first time away from her parents -- and she was homesick.
Yet, after four days of fresh, pine-filled air, she said she was starting to have fun.
The Dos Palos student was one of 67 other students from Merced, Stanislaus and Madera counties participating in a migrant education outdoor education program last week.
According to Peter Leinau, principal of the outdoor school during the regular school year, that's just the experience he wants kids to have.
"These kids are often away from home for the first time," he said. "The benefit is to be in a safe nurturing environment where they can explore safely who they want to become and they can try out new behaviors -- all within a setting that has a highly trained staff."
The weeklong program gives children a sense of independence, according to Rosa Alejandre, coordinator of migrant education for Merced and Madera counties.
"They have activities that help them deal with problems outside of the classroom," she said.
The Merced County Office of Education (MCOE), administrator of the migrant education program, defines migrant students as children who have moved within the last three years.
The constant movement in families can contribute to infrequent school attendance, low academic performance and sometimes results in students dropping out of high school, according to MCOE's website.
Programs such as this help fill in the gaps for students during the regular school year.
The youngsters are led by members of Mini-Corp members, a state-operated program out of the Butte County Office Education. It recruits former migrant children to work as teacher assistants in migrant-influenced summer schools. Merced students practiced team-building and leadership activities.
The lessons are vestiges of earlier outdoor education programs, Leinau said.
Nowadays, the traditional outdoor education programs focus more on core content and meeting state standards rather than self-esteem-building exercises, Leinau said. Migrant outdoor education is also slowly starting to incorporate more academics in its program.
Antonio Aguilar, 22, is a Merced College student and Mini-Corp recruit. He demonstrated a "trust fall" with Diana Anaya, another Mini-Corp volunteer from Palm Desert, in front of more than a dozen migrant education students.
"This is how you do it," he said, arms open, as he caught Anaya, who was falling backward.
"We teach science and writing and students learn about the water cycle," he said. "Kids learn how to trust each other and learn how to work as a team."
Aguilar said the students especially benefit from being taught by him because he felt similar experiences growing up.
"I was never far from my parents, so that was hard," Aguilar recalled. "When you first come here, you are scared and nervous, but then at the end you don't want to leave."
One big group trust fall.
Reporter Jamie Oppenheim can be reached at (209)385-2407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.