‘SURVIVOR DAY’ FUN

Teacher Phil Oelke (with hat) checks the archery technique of sixth-grader Isabell Jones. With her are classmates (from left) Deon Weeks, Jacki Latham and Lyle Fickes.
Teacher Phil Oelke (with hat) checks the archery technique of sixth-grader Isabell Jones. With her are classmates (from left) Deon Weeks, Jacki Latham and Lyle Fickes.
With the end of the school year fast approaching, teachers and sixth-graders from Hillsboro Middle High School participated in an aptly titled year-ending activity.

“Survivor Day” has been an annual tradition for sixth-graders since 2003. It was developed by three middle school teachers, Collette Haslett, Len Coryea and Phil Oelke, who were looking for a different kind of year-end activity to engage student involvement.

“The TV show ‘Survivor’ was pretty popular at the time, and we were trying to find something that was different and unique from anything anybody at the grade school was doing—like trips to the zoo and that kind of thing,” Oelke said.

A team of girls competes with a team of boys in a game where participants hold hands and attempt to keep the balloon in the air longer than the other team. Pictured are (from left) Airen Fay, Sonora Filipiak, Sammy Phillips, Alana Suderman and Delaney Lucero.
A team of girls competes with a team of boys in a game where participants hold hands and attempt to keep the balloon in the air longer than the other team. Pictured are (from left) Airen Fay, Sonora Filipiak, Sammy Phillips, Alana Suderman and Delaney Lucero.

The threesome came up with a Survivor Day at Marion Reser­voir, where students could engage in a variety of activity stations close to town. Students rotate through each activity station, led by adults, over the course of the day.

“Traditionally, we’ve always done archery and pellet guns—and then after that we’ve really had a mixed bag of activities,” Oelke said.

“We’ve done Frisbee golf, badminton, Hillbilly Horse­shoes, bocci ball and other types of yard games. We even had a tentmaking station at one point. We brought in some old school tents to teach kids how to (set one up).”

Most ideas have taken hold and are reprised year after year by popular demand. But at least one didn’t make the cut.

“We tried fishing a couple of years, but it was incredibly unsuccessful,” Oelke said with a chuckle. “So we gave up on that one early.”

With a couple of exceptions, French Creek Cove has been the Survivor Day destination, although they gathered at Marion Cove a time or two.

One year, staff members with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers presented a water-safety session for the students.

“They did it to make them aware how dangerous water can be,” Oelke said. “A lot of times I think water is one of the more powerful things in the world, but it’s not respected much. So, it was really good.”

After a morning of activities, leaders help students start their own campfires to cook hot dogs and S’mores for lunch.

“Then we go through a clean-up period and make sure all the trash, and all the things were back in order the way they should be,” Oelke said.

Over the years, Oelke and the adult team who lead the activity stations have been surprised how well the day has been embraced by students.

“With most of the activities we used to do, you’d always have kids who just don’t like it,” he said. “But in all the years we’ve been doing this, we haven’t had any kids complain.

Teacher Len Coryea offers some pellet-gun shooting tips to Joshua Diener. Also seated at the shooting table are classmates (right to left) are Kori Arnold, Ashlyn Larabee and Karley Loewen.
Teacher Len Coryea offers some pellet-gun shooting tips to Joshua Diener. Also seated at the shooting table are classmates (right to left) are Kori Arnold, Ashlyn Larabee and Karley Loewen.

“In fact, the kids we think wouldn’t enjoy it usually end up being the ones who just fall in love with it—partly because I think they’ve never done anything like this before.”

This year, for only the second time in 14 years, Sur­vivor Day didn’t survive the weather. Light rain began falling mid-morning, and eventually the school buses brought the students back early.

Oelke said students helped unload the buses and prepared an early lunch. When the middle school gym became available, they worked on their archery skills and played other games before capping the day with a Disney Movie.