Swamp School registration opens soon, typically fills up within minutes

Swamp School will have four sessions this summer.

Pair of educators who started program thrilled with success, legacy

It may be a little harder to secure a spot at a Taylor Swift concert than it is for Swamp School, but not by much.

“Registration fills up in minutes of the sessions opening yearly due to the popularity and excitement surrounding the camp,” Alissa Cavaretta, assistant director of St. Charles Parish and Recreation, Public Relations, said.

Swamp School, which is offered through four sessions this summer, is an outdoor camp that includes such activities as tree planting, canoeing, archery lessons and net casting. It was started by educators Barry Guillot and Craig Howat.

“I feel like Craig and I both became educators to make a positive difference in the lives of the students with which we interact and our community. Swamp School is another way that helps us to reach these personal goals,” Guillot said. “In this day and age, when so much is focused on social media, streaming and online video games, it is rewarding to disconnect the kids from technology for a few hours each day, and have them open their eyes to the beautiful natural world around them.”

Guillot and Howat met around 17 years ago at a Dow grant reception. They both had service learning projects that dealt with animals, habitat conservation and outdoor exploration activities.

“We immediately started discussing ideas of how we could partner up,” Guillot said. “We talked a lot about adventures that we shared in common while we were growing up such as canoeing in different places and exploring nature trails.”

Howat said those initial conversations soon turned into brainstorming sessions.

“We wanted to create a summer camp experience at the spillway for our own children and the children of local families who shared our similar vision,” he said. “We wanted kids in the outdoors experiencing our sportsman’s paradise through fishing, canoeing, going on hikes, shooting an arrow from a long bow and embracing the mud, muck and humidity of a south Louisiana summer.”

Swamp School was born.

After a few years, the program began to take off and Guillot and Howat approached the St. Charles Parish Parks and Recreation Department in order to include Swamp School under the umbrella of the parish’s summer programs.

“This allowed us to keep the camp affordable for families with multiple children wanting to attend while reaching a broader audience of children throughout St. Charles Parish,” Howat said. “Mr. Duane Foret, the director of St. Charles Parish Parks and Recreation as well as the staff have embraced our vision and supported Swamp School wholeheartedly. This success of Swamp School is a direct result of this collaboration and teamwork.”

Guillot agrees.

“It was heartening to see how much the St. Charles Parish government values Swamp School as much as Craig and I,” he said. “In fact, the campers always enjoy it when St. Charles Parish President Matt Jewel visits to share the archery range with our campers, and even jump into a canoe to go on one of the excursions with our group.”

Both educators are overwhelmed by the success and popularity of Swamp School now that thousands of kids have taken part in the camp over the last 14 years.

“It’s one of the best feelings in the world to be at Walmart and see one of our former Swamp School campers in line with the cast net or running into one of the parents and have them tell me how their son or daughter has been begging to go out to the spillway to go fishing or crabbing,” Guillot said. “Craig and I are hoping in the future that these campers will use the skills that they learn at Swamp School to bring their own kids out into nature. 

“Through these experiences, we believe that we are fostering a new appreciation for our Louisiana wetlands to these campers who are our future and will pay attention to the many challenges our disappearing wetlands face.”

Barry Guillot (far left) and Craig Howat (far right).

Howat said he’s proud whenever he hears his nickname, Mr. Mud, called out by a swamp schooler.

“I love to hear the stories from parents and grandparents whose children embrace the love of the outdoors and share their knowledge of the local flora and fauna with anyone who will listen,” Howat said. “Just as i have fond memories of Camp Abbey from my youth, these children will hold these experience in their hearts and perhaps grow into stewards of the environment while loving and leading their community.”

The week-long sessions run Monday – Friday from 8 a.m. – 2 p.m. Campers must bring a bag lunch, water bottle, snack, closed-toed tennis shoes and a rain jacket. Additionally, campers should apply sunscreen and bug spray before arriving at camp.

Registration for the week-long camp costs $200 per child. All registrations open at midnight (12 a.m.) at scpparksandrec.com.

• Session 1 will take place from June 3 – June 7. Registration will open on Saturday, March 2.

• Session 2 will take place from June 10 – June 14. Registration will open on Saturday, March 9.

• Session 3 will take place from July 15 – July 19. Registration will open on Saturday, March 16.

• Session 4 will take place from July 22 – July 26. Registration will open on Saturday, March 23.

“There are a very limited number of spots open in each session. Campers registered to attend are on a first come, first served basis,” Cavaretta added.