Back to school at Echo Ranch

Camp holds third annual Homeschool Retreat, for homeschool students, parents to participate in series of educational workshops

Posted: Friday, September 05, 2008

Ah yes, back to school. Excitement and dread fill the air along with the smell of new shoes and fresh denim. For many students, this will mean a new classroom, new teacher, new friends and even a new school. The thought of all that change can be terrifying. Will people like me? What if I can't figure out my locker combination?

On the other hand, there many kids who look forward to the new school year. There are sports to played, clubs to join, friends to share stories with and new subjects to explore. Most kids will spend close to 13 years going to school. Back to school is a huge deal!

I know for me, I had mixed feelings about going back to the classroom. Some years I couldn't wait for summer to end, others my dad had to pry me out of my room with a crowbar. I did enjoy the trip to Fred Meyer for all those great school supplies. That mile-long list that makes parents ask if they can skip buying Christmas presents. Those advertising guys on TV do a pretty good job. It's the one time of year my parents didn't mind spending money on new clothes for their son.

On first day of class, I looked like I was about hike the Himalayas, toting a brand new backpack that weighed more than I did. But at least I looked good in my bright white sneakers and khaki pants.

What does this have to do with Echo Ranch? Glad you asked! On Aug. 26, Echo Ranch hosted its third annual Homeschool Retreat, an opportunity for homeschool students and their parents to come and participate in series of educational workshops. For three days, Echo Ranch became Echo Ranch University.

Students K-12 signed up for classes like American Sign Language, Financial Responsibility, Forestry, Cooking and 15 other various topics. Echo Ranch staff and guest presenters hosted each session. I taught a class on public speaking with a group of ten sixth- to 12th-graders. Pat Shaner and Lyn Fish are the main organizers of the event and have been planning since summer began. A lot of work goes into finding presenters and developing the schedules for each student.

There were more than 90 people who attended this year's Homeschool Retreat. Echo Ranch was buzzing with kids walking around camp with schedules in hand. The common question was, "Where is this located?"

Echo Ranch is a pretty big campus. For our musical appreciation time we enjoyed a performance by the Alaska String Band featuring the Zahasky Family. In their program they taught and sung about the history of Juneau. This was the first time I'd heard about the Princess Sophia shipwreck that took place in 1918 right out in Lynn Canal. Isn't that what school is all about? Learning new information and sharing that experience with others.

Being a part of these workshops has given me a better appreciation for those who teach. I want to thank all the people who help support the parents and teachers. Without someone preparing meals, driving bus, fixing equipment, filing paperwork, and hundreds of other jobs, school would not be possible.

I have also gained a better understanding of homeschool. While working at Echo Ranch I have attended one homeschool graduation, and met many homeschooled children and their parents. Because of the camp schedule and location, Echo Ranch staff homeschool their children and I know many in Southeast do as well.

During the summer, we asked kids who attend Echo Ranch to think critically about their lives. A person's ability to analyze and make decisions is largely taught by their parents and their schooling.

If we expect kids to make healthy choices, then their education is very important. And in my experience, school is where the first tests of life take place. I want kids to succeed. I want them to walk away from high school and into college knowing they chose the right path.

No matter where you receive your education, there are so many parents and teachers who invest in the lives of young people. I hope Echo Ranch has been a part of the lifelong education of children from all over Southeast. May this new school year be blessed and may our children seek after the God who gives wisdom freely to all who ask Him.

• Jon-Michael Gwinnell is a staff member at Echo Ranch Bible Camp. He can be reached at

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