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Camp LEAD hopes to spread diversity and make schools safer

Camp LEAD was established following the Santana High shooting in 2001.

SAN MARCOS, Calif. — Building safe and inclusive schools requires commitment from community leaders, students and staff. In this Zevely Zone, I visited San Marcos High to meet three students who just completed Camp LEAD

Following the shooting at Santana High in 2001, county leaders decided San Diego needed a new generation of leaders and they started with students. More than 20 years ago, Camp LEAD started bringing students together in hopes of making schools safer. "My cousins are safe, and I am so thankful for that, but they were traumatized," said Caroline Oberlin who has a personal connection to the Parkland, Florida shooting in 2018. "Three of my cousins were at the high school and the shooter was walking by their classrooms and they were hiding in closets," said Caroline.

Credit: Camp LEAD

Following the Santana High shooting in 2001, county leaders and Sheriff deputies looked to Camp LEAD for help. "That is absolutely true," said County Supervisor Jim Desmond who recently secured funding to send San Marcos students to two camps. "What it does it mixes kids that are your higher achievers with your lower achievers, and it allows them to all be in the same room and to share what they are feeling," said Supervisor Desmond.  

Credit: Camp LEAD

For two nights and three days, children are mentored by adults who have been through life's challenges. "Both of my parents were incarcerated, my dad was locked up when I was born," said Luana Woods-Maderas. She attended Camp LEAD when she was 16 years old. 

Luana turned away from drug use and gangs and is now the program's director. "When students feel like they are heard, respected and belong somewhere, they don't want to hurt each other," said Luana.

Credit: Camp LEAD

Students and staff will tell you, breakthroughs don't come easy. "When everyone got there it was a little hostile because you are surrounded by people you don't know," said Ray Pulido. He is a high school senior who credits Camp LEAD for the confidence to drop the façade. "I realized I have the power to connect with people," said Ray.  

Dory Huynh is a high school junior, and also learned something about herself. "I am a very judgmental person. I used to be. I was," said Dory. Camp LEAD encouraged Dory to be more open minded. "I learned that you should not judge a book by its cover," said Dory.  

Credit: Camp LEAD

"I think they realized we are all the same," said San Marcos High teacher Danielle Birk. She says the camp promotes self worth. "I don't know if anything can prevent a school shooting, but I do know that this particular camp is rather a step in the right direction," said Danielle.

As for Caroline Oberlin, she is now one of 5,000 students spreading a message of tolerance. "You don't know what they are going through. Everyone has a good heart but may just have a tougher outside," said Caroline. "These people are so cool, and they are such good friends to me."

Camp LEAD is a transformative experiential leadership program for middle and high school aged students. The research based social-emotional residential program has been found to positively impact school communities while also helping individual students transform in ways that positively impact school attendance, behavior, and academic performance.

Camp LEAD is an acronym that stands for Leadership for Equity, Access, and Diversity. Their next camp starts on December 1. For more information about the program or to help out with a donation click here.

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