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Bringing the Magic Online: a #SHXCamp 2020 Retrospective

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Bringing the Magic Online: a #SHXCamp 2020 Retrospective

The ASC Theatre Camp (ASCTC) is an immersive, residential theatre intensive where students ages 13-19 get to:

  • Perform with Shakespeare’s staging conditions in the Blackfriars Playhouse
  • Preview the college experience by living on the Mary Baldwin University campus
  • Watch live performances by American Shakespeare Center professional troupes
  • Explore the infinite performance options available in early modern texts
  • Spend three weeks together

In the midst of the current global pandemic, how could any of that be possible?

Hi, I’m Lia Wallace, and you may remember me from such previous blog posts as “Applied Theatrics” and “What I Learned on my Summer Vacation: An ASCTC 2019 Retrospective.” 

I’m here to pass on some of the lessons I learned this summer at #SHXCamp 2020, the American Shakespeare Center’s digital version of the residential ASC Theatre Camp. Read on for tips, encouragement, and advice on replicating our successes while avoiding our mistakes.

1. Don’t pretend online is the same as in-person. 

Instead, acknowledge and embrace the obstacles and opportunities provided by your new staging conditions.

“To be completely honest (and strongly influenced by discussions I’ve already had with my camper) I would need to see a completely novel approach to online learning that would make us interested in a virtual ASCTC experience. You guys have amazing content and staff, there is no doubt if anyone can pull this off, you can — but so far I’ve seen so many attempts fall flat in engaging people in a way that is anywhere near as powerful as the in-person experience.” – Parent response to pre-Camp survey

When it came time to pivot the residential ASC Theatre Camp into the digital #SHXCamp, I took a look at my list and crossed off everything made impossible by our socially distant reality:

  • Perform with Shakespeare’s staging conditions in the Blackfriars Playhouse
  • Preview the college experience by living on the Mary Baldwin University campus
  • Watch live performances by American Shakespeare Center professional troupes
  • Explore the infinite performance options available in early modern texts
  • Spend three weeks together?

The tangible external trappings of the Playhouse or MBU’s campus are vital components of the residential Camp experience, but they would not survive digital transplantation, and pretending otherwise would get us nowhere. We had to work with whatever would survive, which turned out to be plenty — so long as we embraced our new staging conditions. For us, that meant acknowledging the reality of the Zoom box as our primary venue (see item #2, “Use The Device” for more on this) and crafting work that would work in that venue. 

To do so, I freed directors Jack Read (Julius Caesar) and Lauren Carlton (All’s Well that Ends Well) from the regular restraints of a one-hour cut or indeed any sort of linear storytelling, and I threw nearly all of our normal “rules” out of the window in favor of one new uber rule: the show portfolios could be anything except for a straight-up “Zoom reading” of the play. Instead of using Shakespeare’s staging conditions to mount one-hour productions of early modern plays for live performance in the Blackfriars Playhouse, #SHXCampers would need to use the internet’s staging conditions to devise multimedia-enhanced explorations of Shakespeare’s text for compilation in a digital portfolio. Armed with these instructions, #SHXCampers got extraordinarily creative. Peruse the digital portfolios to see the fruits of their labors (click here for All’s Well, click here for Caesar).

“This was a super unique experience and I think the Caesar team handled it super well. Our process was super collaborative and I know for a fact that my ideas were heard.” —  #SHXCamper

“Oh my gosh. Being in All’s Well with Lauren was incredible!!! She was the best director ever. I loved how we all got to come up with ideas ourselves as well as execute her amazing ideas. The creative freedom she gave us definitely helped get more in touch with character!!” — #SHXCamper

This was hard. We love what we do, and we had a hard time letting it go lightly. ASCTC, like ASC in general, has always been context-driven. What we do (mount one-hour productions of early modern plays) depends heavily not only on why (for live performance) but also on where (in the Blackfriars Playhouse) we do it. Even though we followed the same process of embracing our context to arrive at a final collaborative product, the #SHXCamp digital portfolios look nothing like the normal ASCTC performances — nor should they. After all, online is not the same as in-person.

2. USE THE DEVICE!

“I was surprised that I could make friends very effectively over Zoom!! I love everyone from camp so much.” — #SHXCamper 

While I still spend a good chunk of each day lamenting what we can’t have on Zoom (eye contact, side conversations, ensemble work, unison vocal work, eye contact, eye contact, eye contact) what we can have on Zoom is nevertheless remarkable. Here are a few Zoom functions we used (or should have used) to great effect at #SHXCamp: 

  • Share screen

The digital equivalent of holding up a page for display or glancing (with permission) over your neighbor’s shoulder, screen sharing became second nature at #SHXCamp. Along with a simple view of the screen, Zoom makes it super easy for users to share more. You can send files through Zoom’s screen share function and write on a shared digital “white board” together (see item c. “Annotate” on this list for more about that). You can also share your computer audio — either by itself (perfect for playing music while still being able to see faces in gallery view; came in very handy for the Masquerade Ball and our many impromptu dance parties) or with a screen share (perfect for watching video clips together; came in very handy for Archive Movie Nights).

  • Breakout rooms

The digital equivalent of dividing into smaller groups. Hosts can create, open, and assign meeting participants to  breakout rooms at any time during a meeting. Co-hosts can float between breakout rooms, as well. I cannot imagine rehearsing any sort of ensemble piece without liberal use of the breakout room function for dividing up scene work and delegating to production team members. It’s easy to use, it significantly increases productivity by allowing you to work on more than one moment at a time, and it provides much-needed variety for participants (especially those who may thrive in smaller groups but be reluctant to engage in larger ones). 

  • Annotate

Hosts and meeting participants can use the “annotate” function to draw or write on a shared screen (or shared whiteboard). A simple way to engage students’ participation in workshops (especially since Zoom changed the default settings to automatically show the name of each annotater next to their contribution). We used this to mark up text in our rhetoric and scansion workshops, and also to doodle together between classes. 

  • Chat

“One of the big pluses of using Zoom is that you can private message people. When I can tell people are stressed out or they’re doing a big presentation or something, I normally drop them a “you can do it!” motivational message in their private Zoom messages! Many campers did this for me and the messages never failed to brighten my day.” – #SHXCamper

While I understand the gut reaction to stay away from chat features (we don’t encourage students to pass notes in class, after all) I want to encourage everyone to check their assumptions in this ridiculous time (and remember all the notes they passed in their own classes back in the day anyway). Connecting is hard when we are forcibly separate. Embrace anything that makes it easier. We set rules around the chat functions on each digital platform in different contexts (e.g. only use the Zoom chat for dramaturgy-related questions or comments during rehearsals and keep unrelated chatter to the appropriate Slack channel — read more about Slack in item #4), which helped keep distractions to a minimum while still encouraging campers to engage with the material together.

  • Hide Self View

“Some days were a little harder but I could always turn off my camera and move around and feel better.” — #SHXCamper 

Humans are not used to witnessing our own interactions, and anybody who’s sat across the table from a mirror knows how distracting it is to be forced to do so. We gave #SHXCampers the option of turning off their cameras as needed, which they universally appreciated, frequently used, and (probably) abused on occasion. While requiring cameras on is problematic (especially when it comes to issues of access and bandwidth), so was our solution of allowing them to be turned off at-will. Sometimes, we found ourselves speaking to a sea of black boxes, unsure of whether we were being understood or even heard, which was both frustrating and demoralizing. One happy medium exists in the “hide self view” option, which keeps your camera on but removes your video from your own personal Zoom display (so you aren’t staring at your own face) thereby cutting back on Zoom fatigue. 

Once we stopped lamenting the loss of our in-person program and turned our attention to what we were able to do online, we found all sorts of tools waiting to be put to creative use. If you find yourself forced to teach virtually this year, don’t panic. Investigate your platform(s) thoroughly, and encourage your students to do the same. You may find more than you think.

3. You will need more time to cover less material, and longer breaks to beat Zoom fatigue. Schedule accordingly. 

“More breaks plz to cut some long zoom sessions. The zoom fatigue hits hard sometimes.” – #SHXCamper

Teaching over Zoom is different than teaching in person (see item #1 on this list). Not everything will take longer to do on Zoom, but a lot of things will — including the simple things many of us take for granted. For example, I used to be able to call on a student instantaneously with a simple visual scan and a social cue like pointing or eye contact, none of which is possible on Zoom. Instead, that instantaneous in-person action now takes long moments of verbal explication (instructing students to use the raise hand function, reminding them to unmute themselves, and dealing with the inevitable interruptions and miscommunications that arise from any confusion) to be virtually successful. 

“I would have been ok with a longer day if it meant longer breaks in between things.” – #SHXCamper

In addition to the extra time it takes to do everything, our brains are scrambling to keep up with the constantly shifting modes of technological communication we now rely on but never evolved to use. Though advancements in technology outpaced biological evolution long ago, the struggle is still real and the cognition required for success is increasingly exhausting. There are ways to combat the resulting Zoom fatigue (see item 2e. “Hide Self View”) but the best remedy is thoughtful planning. Schedule brain breaks and take the time you need to be effective. Even if you end up covering less material in the short term, avoiding burnout will always get you further in the long run.

“I heard a lot of people talking about screen time and “zoom fatigue”, but that didn’t really affect me. I did school in the spring online from 9-2, so this really wasn’t that different — except that I was actually enjoying this, which made it much easier.” – #SHXCamper

4. Create a dedicated space for online socializing. 

“I can’t believe how well you created a camp community experience. The first day online was exhausting and I wasn’t sure how all the hours online would translate into a 3 week experience, but it was amazing.” –#SHXCamp Parent

We realized back in March what many colleges and universities around the country began grappling with in July and August: when you lose the residential setting of your program, you lose the built-in immersion of the experience. The ASC Theatre Camp is about so much more than the content of its classes: it’s about the magic of meeting your people. That magic is not self-perpetuating. It needs time and tending, which it normally gets from the side conversations that happen while campers walk to classes together, the spontaneous board game tournaments in the dorm lounges, the late-night whispers between roommates, and all the other sorts of forced bonding that happen naturally between strangers thrown into a high-pressure, intensely emotional experience together. In order to make the magic happen online, we needed a way for campers to “hang out” during free time and connect during classes. Enter Slack.

Slack is a “channel-based messaging system” designed for streamlining communications between coworkers, not a Learning Management System (LMS) designed for delivering content to students (like Canvas or Blackboard Collaborate). I do not work for Slack, and while I endorse the platform heartily, my point is not to convince you to buy it. But I cannot overstate the importance of having a unified, customizable, segmented communications platform for #SHXCamp alongside our Zoom rooms. Everybody had access to standard channels like “general” and “random” as well as #SHXCamp-specific custom channels like “tutorials and resources” (where we stored instructive files like workshop handouts and demo videos) and “antiracism” (where we compiled information about actively dismantling white supremacy). Specific groups within the #SHXCamp workspace could also access private channels for specific projects or conversations — each cast had its own private channel for discussions related to their digital portfolios, for example. In addition to the private and public chat channels, Slack also allows all members to send direct messages to anybody else in the workspace. These features gave us all the ability to quickly and easily connect with everyone from anywhere, and allowed the inside jokes and “had to be there” moments of camp to happen online. 

“If I had to pick one thing [I’ll still remember 20 years from now] though, it’s definitely the friends I made. Because I can confidently say that I made 18 new friends in the middle of a pandemic, and that’s pretty darn cool.” — #SHXCamper

While it took us about a week to get the hang of it (not an insubstantial amount of time in a three-week program), the #SHXCamp Slack workspace became a thriving digital community so vibrant and effective that we decided to keep it forever. We’re creating a SHXSlack subscription benefit for all current and former ASC Theatre Campers (and Camp staff) who join the Epizeuxis Society of ASC donors, which will give them access to this exclusive bubble of Camp resources, events, and friends. We weren’t sure it would work, but it absolutely did — and now we can all keep Camp in our back pockets year-round.

5. We can do this. Together.

“Wow. I cannot say enough amazing things about this camp. I had no expectation that a true residential camp experience could be duplicated, but y’all have absolutely done it. [My camper] has lived and breathed #ShxCamp. It has inspired her beyond measure and surrounded her with a community of passionate people… something she didn’t even know she needed. It has most definitely impacted where she’s considering attending college and even her career plans. She’s already planning for next summer, and I NEVER imagined I would have her considering leaving home for a camp for 3 weeks. Every piece of this camp has been enjoyable for her, and you truly built a community. She’s going to have the same post-camp withdrawals she would if she’d been there in person. I’m mind-blown that a virtual experience could do that, and so thankful that you pivoted this camp to online.” — #SHXCamp Parent

Camp is magic. I learn that anew every summer, and 2020 was no exception. No matter where or how we do it, bringing together a bunch of enthusiastic young weirdos to explore and perform these centuries-old texts is magic. While I hope we never have to do a digital version of the ASC Theatre Camp again, knowing that we can do it is astonishing — and comforting. Weathering the uncertainties of our reality is difficult, and weathering them alone is nigh impossible. At the end of the day, we are what will get us all through this. Each other.

“Thank you so much for saving me from my darkest moments.” — #SHXCamper

Loneliness is corrosive and deadly. I cannot speak for anyone else, but I know I have felt lonelier in the last 5 months than I had in the previous 5 years. But for three weeks this summer, I never felt alone — because I never was. I had Camp with me. 

The article above was authored by Lia Wallace, the Camp Director & College Prep Programs Manager of American Shakespeare Center Theatre Camp


The views and opinions expressed in the article above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Camp Channel, Inc.

This article has been published to provide a first-hand account of one camp’s efforts and experience operating in the midst of Covid-19 during the summer of 2020; for the benefit of camp families, camp professionals, and the public at large. What may “work” for one camp might not for another.  We believe safety is of paramount importance and urge those seeking to attend a camp in 2021 use due diligence and contact a camp directly about their systems, protocols, and outcomes.

If you operated a camp or program during the summer of 2020, please contact us to discuss the possibility of sharing your experiences and insights.



Camp Directors: Include Covid-19 Related Info

Update your camp’s listing accordingly. We are also accepting publication submissions regarding experiences of camps that operated during the summer of 2020.

Update Your Listing

Two new covid related fields have been added. The first provides your camp with the ability to indicate whether you offer a virtual program. A second new field allows you to include your camp’s Covid-19 policy and/or information about possible contingencies your camp might be facing pertaining to Covid-19. To update your listing, visit the following:

https://www.campchannel.com/modify/

Call For Chronicles of Summer 2020

If your camp operated in any capacity during the summer of 2020, please contact us to discuss the possibility of publicly sharing your experiences and insights in the form of a dedicated blog post on CampChannel.com.

Our objective is to disseminate general approaches, protocols, and outcomes pertaining to Covid-19; for the benefit of camp families, camp professionals, and the public at large.

Along with the publication of your account, we would be happy to provide credit and a link to your camp’s website.

10 Questions To Ask When Taking a Summer Camp Tour

One of the best things you can do as you choose a camp is to schedule a tour. America’s best summer camps realize the value of these personal visits and will encourage you to see the camp and meet some of the staff.

I have conducted hundreds of camp tours for campers and families over the past 30 years. There are certain things I know the kids especially want to see and understand to relieve potential anxiety. I also know that parents have important things they want to know too. If you are a first time camp family (especially overnight camp where there are a lot of new things you haven’t even thought of yet) it can be hard to get all the information you want on a tour. So here are my Top Ten questions you should ask before, during, or after the camp tour. I absolutely recommend a camp tour before sending your child to a camp. Think ahead. If you are interested in a camp that is inaccessible part of the year because of snow or other weather conditions, you may need to take a tour the summer before you plan to enroll.

  1. Where will I sleep, shower, and go to the bathroom? These are the number one concerns of a young camper on a camp tour. Trust me, they are excited by the climbing wall and swimming pool but make sure you see the cabins and bathrooms. I have seen anxious campers melt with big smiles once they can climb on a bunk bed, make sure the bathroom is not smelly (or too far away) and realize there is a place to shower. A great follow up question if the camp has bunk beds (most do) is “how do you decide who sleeps on which bunk?” Some kids are very anxious about a top or bottom bunk and knowing how that will be assigned is comforting information.
  2. Where and what will I eat? Super important for kids to understand where the food comes from. They worry about this stuff but may lack the foresight to ask the question. So, ask it for them. After all, Moms and Dads want to know this stuff too.
  3. How do parents and campers communicate? Ask the Camp Director this question with your campers present and listening. As a parent it is very important that you support the camp communication policy. And, it is important for your child to understand that communication will probably be limited. It is also a great way to make it real for them that they will be handling this experience by themselves without calling or messaging you every 5 minutes.
  4. Where do your campers come from? There is no right answer to this question but it is an important one to ask. First, it gives you a very good idea that the Camp Director or person giving the tour has a handle on who they serve. It also allows you to focus in on the camp environment you want your child to be a part of. Do you want your camper to have camp friends that he/she/they can see throughout the year? In that case a camp with a strong local presence is important. Want to increase your child’s world view and understanding of other cultures? Campers and staff from around the world can provide awesome insight into life in other countries.
  5. Can you show us where a camper can go if they need help? I love it when people ask this question (and if they don’t I answer it anyway.) For many campers, Summer Camp is new and a bit intimidating despite all the fun and energy. So having a visual reference of the office, health center, or wherever they can go when they need guidance is very helpful. I notice that the kids I can remember meeting on a tour are much more comfortable walking into the office with questions. They know it’s okay to walk through that door because they have already done it.
  6. How does the weather today compare to a typical summer day. Many campers may not understand temperature as a number of degrees but can will certainly understand “Cooler, warmer, or about the same.” It is important that you and your camper prepare for the climate at camp and this question, asked on a tour, makes it easy to understand.
  7. Are you accredited by the American Camp Association (ACA?) There are two reasons to ask this question. 1) ACA is the only nationally recognized accreditation body for camps. So if a camp is ACA accredited they have chosen to pursue a very high level of standards for their camp programs. 2) This is a bit sneaky but asking this question sets you apart as a person that has really done the homework. The fact that you mention ACA will get the Camp Director’s attention. They may pay just a little bit more attention to your needs on the tour because they recognize you as a savvy customer.
  8. Do you have any materials we can take home? Many camps no longer mail a brochure home but rely on their websites to convey the feel and philosophy of their camp. But most camp offices are filled with swag! Your campers will feel special if they have a sticker, comic book, or giveaway item that isn’t widely available. You should get something special because you came for a tour, right?
  9. What’s one thing my camper should bring that’s not on the packing list? Every camp I have ever visited or gotten to know has a packing list. And, they all have this kind of secret menu of items that returning campers and staff know about but first time campers couldn’t possible know. At one camp I visited it was glow sticks (for night hikes) and at another it was laundry detergent to add to your own bag of dirty clothes on Wash day because the camp never seemed to use enough. Nobody was trying to keep these things secret from new kids but nobody thought to add them to the packing list. By the way, if you were to ask me that question on a tour I would say “Ping Pong balls!” We sell thousands of boring white ping pong balls in our store for a nickel each (Comes out of the kids camp store account.) So save your camp money and stand out from the crowd with orange or colored ping pong balls. You will also save your spot at the table when you don’t have to run to the store for a new ping pong ball. (Ping Pong is very popular at our camp. We have 6 tables!)
  10. Finally, one for Moms and Dads: Can we see your kitchen? Food is very important and seeing where it is made and served is a nice touch. But seeing how clean the kitchen is, how well organized and fresh smelling it is, tells you the camp pays attention to details. They didn’t just clean the areas you were about to see but they make sure the camp is safe and clean at all times.

So there we have it. Ten questions to ask on your camp tour. And, please make sure you do schedule a camp tour if you possibly can. It will make you and your camper feel much more prepared for the adventure ahead.

Andrew Townsend is the Director of Kennolyn Camps, based in Santa Cruz, CA. Kennolyn offers overnight camps in Santa Cruz and on Huntington Lake as well as Day Camp and Family Camp. Kennolyn has been a Bay Area favorite since 1946. Kennolyn is accredited by the American Camp Association. www.kennolyncamps.com 831 479 6714.

National Parks & Summer Camps: Essential Sanctuaries in the Modern World

August 25, 2016 marked the National Park Service’s Centennial (100th) anniversary. Some might say the National Park system is our nation’s “best idea” – for a great number of reasons; some of the most poignant of which can not be easily translated into mere words as a substitute for one’s presence amidst the sublime natural surroundings National Parks afford to those who cross their often frail boundaries into the unique ancient landscapes and habitats contained therein.

A long range historical perspective might reveal how the establishment of the National Park Service represented an effort to not only preserve our natural treasures, but to establish a foundation and cooperative framework to afford what might be considered the equivalent of large scale “communal camp facilities” for generations to engage and establish connections in perpetuity — amidst a contemporary world which often bombards us with a constant stream of trivial information and unending artificial stimuli.

Just as National Parks provide a physical venue for people to come together and perhaps form unseen yet enduring bonds with untrammeled natural landscapes and wildlife, summer camps might be thought of in a similar light in so far as providing a “sanctuary” from some of the more obtrusive aspects of modern life which might affect young people’s ability to better engage in meaningful social interaction and relationships with other individuals at a formative age.

As the sprawl of modern life has enveloped much of our natural surroundings, perhaps so too have technological advancements encumbered relationships among people – young and old.  As a society and individuals, we’ve seemed to have generally drifted further and further into the individualized compartments of virtual worlds, electronic devices, and gadgetry; often at the expense of establishing and developing meaningful bonds with others – in real time, in person.

Summer camps offer a forum for kids to establish real life relationships with one another; many of whom are experiencing similar issues in navigating the complicated waters of modern life. A camp environment may facilitate more thoughtful conversation and interaction with others “in the moment” vs. the often caricatured reclusive behavior of reflexively retreating to one’s mobile device or gadget.

In a similar light as National Parks, some camps are able to provide a direct connection to our natural environment at various levels of immersion. Given the apparent decreasing scope of nature (with a capital “N”) from our collective consciousness, the value of such a portal is immense; even as a simple reminder to all of us regarding our essence as human beings and what ultimately sustains us as creatures who inhabit the Earth.

Summer camps come in all shapes and sizes with respect to:  locale, facilities, and programming emphasis.  Likewise, not all camps take place outdoors in a natural setting; however, even camps that utilize an indoor facility(s) still offer a meaningful venue to congregate and interact with others in a positive fashion.

It is difficult to refute how technology has improved the human condition – offering tremendous breakthroughs and conveniences on a number of fronts. However, without the adoption and nourishment of constructs pertaining to real life bonds and relationships to people and the natural environment, technological improvements will invariably not live up to their potential to help people to prosper;  instead, perhaps even serve to perpetuate and amplify disconnects between people and nature alike.

In addition to such commonalities, the National Park Service and summer camps also share the same general historical era with respect to some of their early implementations. Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States, had extended federal protection to an unprecedented amount of land and wildlife during his terms in office from 1901-1909; a combined effort including: five National Parks, eighteen National Monuments, and the beginning of the United States Forest Service – totaling nearly 250 million acres.  It was on the heels the Roosevelt administration the National Park Service formally sprang into existence in 1916.

During the same approximate time frame, the first traditional residential summer camps in the United States started to appear in the early part of the 20th Century, such as the following summer camps which are still in operation to date:

Awosting (1900)

YMCA Camp Mason (1900)

Frost Valley YMCA (1901)

Surprise Lake Camp (1902)

Camp Highlands for Boys (1904)

Pok-O-MacCready Camps (1905)

YMCA Camp Lakewood (1905)

Camp O-AT-KA (1906)

YMCA Camp Copneconic (1915)

Fairview Lake YMCA Camps (1915)

Keystone Camp (1916)

For well over 100 years, enrollment in summer camp programs has been strong and durable; helping to provide children growing up in the midst of unbelievable technological advancements to be afforded the essential tools for establishing and improving interpersonal dynamics at a young age — holding great promise that such can be imparted from one generation to the next in the years to come.

Likewise, National Parks have been a huge success – especially in recent times – with an ever increasing number of park visitors from year to year.  Even in spite of the potential detrimental impact to park infrastructure from high visitor usage, it is a heartening sign in a contemporary life filled with distractions to see our National Parks being “loved to death” – for it might very well represent the heartbeat of a society trying to maintain its way in quickly changing and fast paced world.

 

Cell Phone Policies at Summer Camps

While many summer camps are located in relatively remote locations, there are nonetheless very few areas which are completely off the grid these days regarding cell phone service areas. Regardless of coverage, it seems the majority of camps have adopted a “no cell phone” policy of one form or another; providing a distinct set of rules and guidelines which might prohibit campers to possess or use cell phones (as well as other particular personal electronic devices) while at summer camp.

As a parent, it is important to learn about out your camp’s cell phone policy and the rational behind it. Hopefully, the camp director has communicated your camp’s policy – one way or the other – regarding cell phones usage. If not, be sure to check the “what not to bring to camp list” or inquire directly with the camp office … since many camps which have a no cell phone policy will confiscate all mobile devices until the camp session has concluded.

While it might be tempting for a parent to try and circumvent a camp’s no cell phone policy, there are many reasons to observe and respect such rules. For starters, compliance with all camp policies — not simply picking & choosing only those which one likes — provides children with a good example of how to follow rules at camp which have been designed for everyone to get along with one another. Perhaps most importantly, a cell phone represents a tether to one’s parents and may serve as an impediment for a child to learn how to solve problems on their own in what might otherwise be a structured and supportive environment for growth and independence.

Not only are cell phones expensive and can get stolen or lost, but their usage can interfere with and sabotage a child’s overall experience at camp … such that a child may immerse oneself in technology or communications from a far at the expense of getting to know one’s fellow campers and counselors in the immediate here and now. Summer camp offers a great opportunity to learn about and navigate social situations while not being constantly connected to & immersed within a digital/virtual world. A no-electronics policy at camp might actually be one of the very few occasions a child has to take a real hiatus from their prized gadgets and the constant drone of repetitively using the controls of an electronic device. It might actually be a welcome surprise for a child to know they are able to connect with other humans without busily moving their fingers over a screen, or simply being able to enjoy physically turning the pages of a book while reading on a rainy day. In the end, most campers agree it’s well worth it.

For those especially anxious parents who simply want to keep in touch, there is always the old fashioned way to connect via letter writing. At the end of the day, nothing beats a letter from home! Likewise, it can only be helpful to a child in this modern digital age to reinforce the traditional skill of sitting down with a simple piece of paper and pen in hand to communicate one’s thoughts. If immediacy of contact is of importance, many camps offer the ability to email campers at camp. Likewise, some camps will publish photos of campers during camp to their website.

Cell phone policy for staff? Many camps also have restrictions for cell phone usage by camp counselors and staff such that they are only to be used off duty and not in the presence of campers. Likewise, campers are also typically prohibited from making calls or sending text messages on counselor’s cell phones.

While it seem the majority of camps generally prohibit cell phones outright, other personal electronic devices (i.e. iPods, MP3 players, mobile gaming devices, etc.) have a much greater variance of rules from camp to camp. It is important to specifically inquire with the camp office about rules governing any given electronic device your child is considering taking to camp.

In the cases of camps or programs where cell phones are allowed, it is important to understand and respect rules which stipulate when, where, and how often a camper is permitted to use their cell phone.

Camp Jobs: Differentiating Camp Director Positions

There are wide assortment of different types of summer camps and so too are there a variety of different Camp Director positions which entail various roles and responsibilities.

Generally speaking, a “camp director” is a camp staff position of greatest authority with respect to summer camp operations.   Relatively small camps and summer programs typically have only one camp director (and is referred to as such) and is sometimes the owner of the camp; however, some larger organizations might have several camp directors with slightly different titles such as Executive Director, Program Director, Marketing Director, and Assistant Director … each of which are designed to fulfill a particular division of labor at a relatively high level of authority in the camp staff hierarchy.

Executive Director

An Executive Director is charged with ultimately overseeing all aspects of the camp entity and often more specifically with respect to administration aspects of running the organization as a whole.   An Executive Director might serve as a liason between a camp owner (or governing body) and other camp directors and staff.   While executive directors might generally be accustomed to administrative roles at camps, this is not to say many will not engage in day to day in the field management and oversight of camp operations during camp as well as events during the off-season.

Program Director

A Program Director’s role will vary from camp to camp; however, such a position is usually closely intertwined with the formulation, implementation, and management of a summer camp’s program as well as direct administration and supervision of camp staff.   Often times, the Program Director is simply referred to as the “Camp Director”.   Such a position generally involves a critical “boots on the ground / life blood” connection between the day to day activities of how a camp operates in real time in relation to a camp’s general and specific programming architecture.   As a Program Director, it may be necessary to wear several hats during the course of a camp’s primary session(s):  one might be charged with developing schedules, procedures, and other camp routines.  A Program Director may also be directly involved with assigning campers and staff to particular groups, units, or cabins.  Organization of general records and inventories, as well as supervision of the provision of food services might also be shouldered by the Camp Director.    Additional responsibilities might include the oversight and management of facilities during the “shoulder” and off-seasons (i.e. pre and post-camp programs such as mother-daughter/father-son, family camp, alumni events, etc.).   Duties will also often involve preparing the camp grounds and facilities for use by campers and other attendees, pre-camp training of new and existing staff, as well as coordination of closing day procedures.   Lastly, but of the utmost importance, the safety and well being of the entire camp ultimately falls squarely upon the shoulders of the camp director; who is charged with generally establishing a safe camp environment across the board and insuring adequate medical services are available – along with a comprehensive crisis management plan.

Marketing Director

Mostly found in larger camp organizations, the role of a Marketing Director is often similar to marketing positions in other non-camp related business settings; typically responsible for promotional campaigns and activities involving both online and print advertising, branding, and public relations.   Such a role may also involve establishing and/or continuing relations with alumni and families.

Assistant Director

Just as the title implies, an assistant director is a camp staff position which incurs a delegation of authority from either the primary Camp Director  or possibly a role in tandem with one of the other special directors (i.e. Assistant Marketing Director, Assistant Executive Director).    Assistant directors will often serve as an extra set of hands in the field for the camp director.  The level of authority granted to assistant directors can vary tremendously depending upon the situation.  In many scenarios, assistant directors are crucial leaders in the day-to-day operations of a camp and often serve as a “first contact” (of authority) for all camp counselors and camp staff in the field.  Similarly, some camps empower assistant directors to take the initiative with respect to implementing camp programming on a daily basis.     In the setting of a small summer camp, there might be only or two  Assistant Directors – one of which might considered the “second in command” or the Camp Director’s “right hand”.  At the other end of the spectrum, in the context of a larger camp organization there might be quite a number of assistant directors which have authority greater than most camp staff; however, work in concert as more of a coordinated team of assistants with a well defined system of division of labor.   In such cases, given the hectic pace during camp and the great range of projects and responsibilities facing a Camp Director during the off-season,  an Assistant Directors are often tasked with a lot of the “busy work” to keep the system humming along.

 Qualifications for various director positions will vary depending upon the scope of the particular position and may include:

  • A degree in camp administration or related programming or educational field
  • A Director certification by the American Camp Association
  • Experience in camp administration such as head counselor
  • Demonstrate an ability to supervise both campers and staff.
  • Ability to interact with camp families and the general public.
  • Various other certifications (i.e. first aid, CPR, etc.)
  • Organizational skills

While it might be convenient to try to distinguish camp director positions on paper, the fact of the matter is that each situation regarding how a particular director position is defined at any given camp will be different.  To this end, it is important to have an open and in depth discussion with the camp owner (or individual in charge of hiring) about the scope of the director position you have an interest for being hired.    Sometimes situations are more fluid than others in terms of overlap of duties and if you excel in a particular skill set, it is possible you might be given responsibilities which might not otherwise have been afforded to others in the same position.

 

Winter Camps & Programs

With the winter solstice and holiday season quickly approaching, it might be of interest to know there are many “camps” which are gearing up for their winter sessions; designed to provide programming options for youth during winter break from school.

While some winter camps might be tailored specifically for winter activities such as skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, sledding, etc., many will extend their same core programming activities offered in the summer, but packaged for a condensed session during winter break.  Depending upon the location in the country and the nature of any given “winter camp”, such sessions may be held outside; however, many will be held entirely indoors … especially with respect to camps which are located in cold weather climates or those which offer programming which can easily be held at a more generic indoor venue or facility such as:   arts, academics, computers, dance, drama, music, martial arts, etc.

Winter camps which engage in more specialized athletic activities may also be held at indoor facilities specifically designed for particular sports or activities such as:  tennis, hockey, basketball, gymnastics, swimming, soccer, skateboarding, etc.

If you happen to live in a region of the country where the year round weather is suitable for outdoor activities such as Southern California, Florida, etc., you might find a wider selection of outdoor winter camps and related activities available.

A keyword search for “winter camps” on the Camp Channel currently reveals upwards of about 75 different listings which have made mention of some form of winter activities offered.  It is important to note that many of these camps and organizations may provide a winter session as an option in light of a much larger array of summer session program offerings.  In other words, camps which are primarily engaged in summer programming might not necessarily advertise their winter camp in the forefront and you might need to inquire further to obtain more information or details.

Many religious based camps offer winter retreats and other programming options, which may include programming for the entire family.

Another common program appears to be “Winter  Zoo Camps” which take place at various Zoos; providing a fun, interesting, and educational experience for kids.

It is important to note that winter camps come in all shapes and sizes in terms of the type of programming offered, facilities, and other important aspects you may wish to consider.   Some might be more akin to a class or workshop, while other programs might be setup more along the lines of a traditional camp in so far as social activities and interactions are concerned.   Similarly, some winter camps are designed to be mini-vacations or getaways – whereby you or your child will sleepover at the camp or excursion, while other programs might occur during the day only and it would be necessary to go back home (or to one’s accommodations) at night.   Regardless, winter camps allow kids and older individuals to engage in both fun and educational activities in a social setting during a time of the season which often limits interaction with others due to the seasonal nature of winter weather being typically much colder/harsher.

Regardless of what type of winter camp you might be interested in attending or sending your child, it is important to inquire with the camp director about the specific nature of a winter program you might be considering.

 

Annual Camp Reunions & Off-Season Gatherings

It doesn’t have to be summer for children who have attended the same camp to get together.  In fact, during the so-called “off-season” (when camp is not in session), many summer camps will hold reunions to allow kids a chance to catch up with one another in a fun setting.

Adults might be most familiar with high school reunions – which occur once every five or ten years (long past being a student); however, annual camp reunions or other related social gatherings are often geared to kids who have attended camp the previous summer and perhaps plan on going back for the next.   This is not to say there aren’t long-term camp alumni reunions geared mainly toward adults who attended camp long ago (which we will address reunions of this type in another article).

While some day camps will hold off-season reunions or other social gatherings, residential camps will typically be most apt to promote and host such events given the nature of an overnight camp being more of a continuous “home away from home” where campers and counselors may have spent upwards of 8 weeks together as an extended family.  Likewise, residential camps may attract campers from all over the country (or world), whereas campers who attend day camps typically live in the same or adjacent neighborhoods and see one another regularly in school during off-season.  Nonetheless, day camp reunions provide an opportunity for kids who may have spent considerable time together during the course of the summer to assemble in the context of their “camp family” which shares a common bond away from school.

Although it varies from camp to camp, reunions may incorporate:  a meal or snacks (such as an ice cream social), a photo slideshow or short video, as well as fun games, activities and camp traditions which allow campers to interact with one another and re-establish bonds created during the course of the previous summer.  Sometimes small prizes, mementos, and other memorabilia are awarded during reunions to reflect achievements.   Often times, previous or future counselors who live the area where the reunion takes place may attend the event.   Most of all, reunions are meant to be a shared fun experience for campers while camp is not in session.

It is also possible to see an “open house” run in conjunction with an annual reunion to allow future or prospective campers to gain a first hand experience of the social fabric which binds the camp community together.

If a residential camp has several different main locations across the country where campers reside, there might be several reunions located in different cities.    Not all camps hold reunions, so you might want to contact your camp’s director to inquire as to whether your camp holds a reunion or any other sort of off-season gathering; however, if they do, chances are you’ll be informed of the date, location, and other pertinent details.

 

 

Summer Camp Jobs: What To Expect For Compensation

Being a summer camp counselor can be a very rewarding experience for young adults which pays off numerous intangible dividends on many fronts for both counselors and campers alike; however, the question of what form and level of compensation one should expect from a summer camp job can vary tremendously across different situations and circumstances.

At one end of the spectrum, some camps – such as some special needs programs – may rely entirely upon volunteers or interns to comprise the bulk of their staff and perhaps only provide “room and board”.   On the other side of the coin, a year round camp director position at a large private facility may require a substantial and full time investment along with a very high level of responsibility; which might entail signficant monetary compensation along with a full benefits package.

While the above extremes do exist, the compensation levels for the majority of camp jobs fall somewhere in the middle and typically depend upon several factors such as:

  • Type of Position
  • Level of Authority
  • Number of Years at a Camp
  • Level of Prior Experience:  Qualifications, Certifications, Past Experience
  • Demand for particular positions
  • Length of Camp Session(s)
  • Profile of Camp Program

As a general activity counselor, one’s pay scale is typically determined by one’s prior experience or number of years at a given camp.   While it might be viewed as a “entry level position”, general camp counselors are the backbone of any given camp’s operations in so far as direct interactions with campers.

Kitchen staff, office, and facility maintenance positions are all necessary components of many camp operations and are essential to allowing the overall system to function smoothly in many respects.   It is important to distinguish levels of responsibility among such positions in so far as compensation expectations.  For example, an individual who’s duties are confined to washing dishes and tables in the mess hall should expect to receive less pay vs. the head cook/chef who’s responsibilities might include selecting, ordering, and preparing food for the entire camp.  There can be similar distinctions within both office and maintenance departments of a camp.  By the same token, if you have acquired a great deal of experience regarding any particular facet, you might be rewarded with a higher level of compensation.

Many residential camps will have a registered nurse on the premises and some will have a doctor.   Since the level of experience and qualifications for either of these positions is relatively high compared to most other positions, the relative pay scale will typically reflect such a distinction.  With respect to doctors, some camps may try to offer individuals the ability to bring their families up to camp for an extended amount of time as part of a compensation package.

In a similar light, other qualified speciality positions such as certified Lifeguards, Horseback Riding Instructors, Musicians, Sailing Instructors, Computer Instructors, etc. also have specific areas of expertise and unique qualifications which might be in high demand for a particular summer camp situation.   Some camps offer certification training; however, it is important to learn whether or not you will be responbible for payment for any given course you might elect to take … as some camps will foot the bill and others will not necessarily.

Laundry facilities are often made available as well, but it is important to inquire about particulars.

Room and board are also typically factored into the overall compensation package.   Residential camps typically provide staff with some form of sleeping arrangements as well as three meals a day.  While day camps normally do not provide housing for counselors, they often provide at least lunch.

The use of camp facilities can also be considered a benefit.   Some camps might allow counselors the ability to water-ski, sail, and participate in other camp related activities on their days off if it does not interfere with the regular day-to-day operations of camp and campers.

Transportation to and from camp depends a lot upon the particular nature of the camp.   Day camps require counselors and staff to commute to and from camp on a daily basis.  Depending upon one’s particular position, one might be able (or required) to ride the bus and assist with supervision of children who are being picked up and dropped off to and from camp.  On the other hand, you might need to arrange for transportation independently.

Time off is another factor to consider.   It is important to understand the allocation of time off – especially at a residential camp – prior to committing to a full summer.  Some camps might offer a single day per week, while others might not have any time available beyond an hour here or there during the days/nights.

Pre-camp is often a required training period prior to camp as well as post camp – the period directly after camp sessions end where facilities and equipment are “broken down” and put away – might also be factored into the equation.  If you are expected to appear at camp for duties prior to or after the primary camp session, your compensation may or may not reflect your time investment during these periods.

So, at this point you might be wondering about the actual wages you might be able to earn at a summer camp?  It is difficult to answer this question with any sort of consistency or authority given the great number of different camp job situations which exist.  However, to give you a very broad and general idea about what to possibly expect regarding direct wages, we’ve compiled some data from the Camp Channel Job Board with respect to reported direct monetary wages for the summer of 2013:

  • the average (mean) range was $1443 – $2207
  • the highest wage offered was $6,000

It is important to note the data regarding wages above were solicited by asking camp directors to report the lowest and highest wages for “an entire camp season”.  Since the length of a season can vary greatly among camps (typically from one to eight weeks), the average range does not reflect a consistent unit of time and should be interpreted as only a very loose approximation to give you an idea of direct monetary compensation.  Along the same lines, it is also difficult to flush out the various other forms of non-monetary benefits (as noted above) which might also be included in a compensation package in so far as being able to compare “apples to apples” of an overall compensation package.

Bonuses are always possible, but unless explicitly detailed in your work agreement should always be looked upon as an unexpected additional income.

Given the wide variety of different types of summer camp jobs, it is important to inquire with the camp director as to the particulars of your situation.

Email A Camper At Camp

Campers love to receive letters from home & letter writing has long been a very popular form of communication used by campers to send and receive information from family and friends while at a sleepover camp.  In recent years, many camps now offer the ability for parents, family, and friends to send a “one way” email  – which is in turn printed and given to a camper during the course of the regular mail call.

Every camp is different, so it is important to obtain the specific details about an “Email A Camper” service your camp might offer — from either the official website or a direct inquiry to the camp director or staff member.  Depending upon how an “email a camper” system has been setup, it is possible there might be a nominal fee associated with sending email messages … since there are costs involved in so far as setting up the system, the actual printing (paper, toner, etc.), and time involved by staff.

It is possible you might need to register for an account online or receive a pre-approval code allowing you to submit an email via a designated form — linked directly from the camp’s website.  Some camp programs might have a particular direct email address established for one-way communication whereby the camp will only receive, print, and distribute emails to campers; however, campers are typically unable to reply via email … as most traditional residential camps (but not all) try to encourage activities other than being tethered to electronic devices 24×7.

Camps might have a particular day and time set as a designated “cut-off” in order for messages to be delivered to campers by the pre-determined mail call.  It is important to understand the particular protocol being used by your camp if you’d like to insure emails are received in a timely fashion.   Due to both time and other constraints, some camps might place restrictions on the frequency of emails you’re allowed to send, such as one per day.

It is important to note that printed emails are typically viewed by staff to some extent in the course of being printed and ultimately their delivery should not be considered confidential.

One way email service may also include staff members as well.   Day camps and “travel camps” typically do not offer such services due to the particular nature of the programs.

If your camp does not offer an email service, don’t dispair the U.S. Postal Service is still in operation and is capable of delivering letters the old fashioned way — there is always something special with respect to a hand written letter which has the easily recognized handwritting of a loved one or close friend!