There was a very interesting New York Times article last week that has been making the rounds amongst our leadership team. It's titled "What Colleges Want In An Applicant (Everything)". It details the many frustrations of parents and high achieving students as they try to navigate the college admissions process, especially considering how hard it is to discern what truly will help a high school senior stand out. Is it grades? Is it standardized tests or extra-curriculars? How about AP classes and community service projects? The article shows how opaque the process can be, and how varied it is from school to school.
As a community our mission is to enrich our campers’ summers with experiences that go beyond just having fun. We try to help them learn to be more creative, more effective leaders, better problem solvers and better at working through adversity. Tonight, during our evening activities, this was on full display.
There are times when I'm talking about our summer camp community that people give me a look that says "but realistically, could your campers really that nice to each other?" Sometimes they even come out and say "just because you tell them to care about the other members of the community doesn't mean they actually do it". During these conversations I wish I could show them moments like I saw yesterday at our New Camper Party in the Boston area. In such a short time we were already seeing how effectively our staff can teach a group of kids be more empathetic.
As I mentioned earlier in the week, much of the Camp Office team was recently in Beijing. We went to see our returning campers and host a camp reunion, but we were also in China to take part in the 2nd China Camp Education Conference as guest speakers.
More than once this summer I've written that at its core our overnight camp in NH is about taking part in things that you wouldn't normally do at home. It's why our days are filled with jumping off of zip lines, tubing around our beautiful lake, and learning how to make our own furniture (while also playing lots of sports and making a ton of camp friends). This drive to do the exciting and unusual was on display from morning to night today.
It occurred to me that I didn't write that much about this year's staff training. It being the cornerstone of how we create summers of fun and learning for our campers, I thought that I might want to remedy this.
Starting June 12th each of our coaches, teachers, activity heads and group leaders arrived for two weeks of learning how to be an exceptional child development professional. During their training we offered seminars on every aspect of being a camp counselor, from how to run the most fun and engaging sports and arts activities possible to how to keep each of our campers physically and emotionally safe.
So here's my favorite story of the day: At breakfast this morning one of our newest, youngest campers from Westchester, NY turned to his counselor and said "I just want to go home". The counselor was completely caught off guard by this, and with a sinking feeling in his chest gingerly asked "what do you mean?" The young man replied "you know, the bunk. Where we live. Can we go back there now? I like it there".
Almost 10 years ago, Scott Brody, the owner/director of our brother-sister summer camp in NH, spotted a growing national trend: some of our education leaders and the heads Fortune 500 companies were starting to speak publicly about a massive skills gap in our young people. In what was a surprise to many, the issue wasn't about our young people's STEM skills, but rather, that our high schools and universities were producing graduates unable to think on their own, lead in a group, or be responsible for their own actions. They were lacking in the sort of soft skills that are crucial in today's workplaces: the ability to effectively communicate, to work well with others, to think creatively, and to be positve leaders. These traits were eventually gathered together under a single heading and given the name 21st century skills, with educators and CEO's identifying them as the necessary skills and dispositions young people will need to succeed in the 21st century global economy.
Every now and then I read an article and say to myself "why did I not think to write that?!" Today was one of those days. In today's Boston Parents Paper Lucy Norvell published a piece called "Here’s why you can sleep soundly while your kid’s at a sleepaway camp". As I read each paragraph I kept saying outloud at my desk "she gets it! This brilliant woman gets it!"