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The Value of Camp

We have long known the value of camp.

We regularly receive letters, e-mails, and direct feedback from alums, campers, parents and staff sharing the myriad impacts of Sanborn Western Camps on their lives. In 2012, Sanborn Western Camps began using the American Camp Association’s Youth Outcomes Battery to help quantify the impact of the experience on our campers.

Our goal is to determine if we are achieving our mission: “To live together in the outdoors, building a sense of self, a sense of community, a sense of the earth and a sense of wonder through fun and adventure.” We used ACA’s Youth Outcomes Battery (YOB), parent evaluations and camper evaluations. We seek to measure campers’ experience and growth, develop new and improve current programming, design more intentional staff training sessions and demonstrate, through data, that we are doing what we say we are doing. We have used this data to support and inform program improvement and to demonstrate the value of camp programs and educational strategy.

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Since 2012, we have administered the YOB to about 475- 500 campers near the end of each of month long sessions as part of a larger camper feedback experience at both camps. The YOB scales were selected to be aligned with our mission:

  • Sense of Self: Perceived Competence, Independence, Responsibility
  • Sense of Community: Camp Connectedness, Friendship Skills, Teamwork
  • Sense of the Earth: Affinity for Nature, Interest in Exploration
  • Sense of Wonder: Family Citizenship, Problem Solving Competence
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Proven Results

In 2015, Sanborn had their first cycle of “repeat” measurement in the “sense of self” YOB surveys: Independence, Responsibility, and Perceived Competence. This was also the first year where there was a very comprehensive set of data from all age groups at both the boys and girls camp which included the additional demographics of gender, age, and years at camp.

Results showed that Sanborn is delivering a positive and predictable growth experience in campers’ sense of self (as measured by the YOB scales) at each camp, at every age, in each session, whether or not this was their first year or their 10th year at camp. Results also indicated that Sanborn Western Camps is reliably and uniformly delivering on this intention for all campers, and campers’ growth is ongoing summer after summer. Good news!

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One of the most interesting findings from the 2015 surveys was the slight dip in “Responsibility” scale results between the 9th and 10th grade summers. Tenth grade campers are CITs/Junior Counselors, and—in theory—take on more responsibility than any other camper in the entire program.

We used this finding to think more deeply about the perspectives and tasks of the CITs/Junior Counselors, and engaged in a reflective process that involved changing the Junior Counselor curriculum to be more intentional and consistent with Junior Counselors’ descriptions of responsibility, and including more explicit recognition of “responsibility in action” and more specific leadership training that addressed the challenge and reward of responsibility.

Nationally Recognized

Because of this work, and our ongoing commitment to utilizing data to help us improve our programming, Sanborn Western Camps received the 2017 Eleanor P. Eells Award for Research in Practice—a national award presented at the annual American Camp Association National Conference.

The ACA’s Youth Outcomes Battery has provided us with data that demonstrates we are achieving our mission. The data has also helped us find specific focus areas for our program improvement process. Parents, alums, board members, staff and campers have responded positively to our measurement efforts. They see it as another, objective way of receiving useable feedback which—with intentional program development—continues to make our camp experience the best it can be!