Summer Starts With "S"

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During the 2021 camp season, we discovered that–beyond the word “Summer”–some of the other best “s” words are also exactly what kids need right now from the adults around them.

Think Small: At camp, our living units and cabinsides are the hub of camper relationships. Campers typically branch out and connect with other like-minded campers on different trips and activities, but they always return “home” to those smaller groups. Beyond the cabinside/unit overnights, cabin/cabinside/tent/unit counselors aren’t traditionally assigned to do activities with just “their” campers during camp. This summer, that changed.

The cohort model we employed in 2021 meant our living units spent most of the first 10 days of camp together, with campers in the living units doing trips and activities with their own staff members. Instead of being bored with having to spend time with the same people, our campers and staff members loved that deeper sense of community and connection.

Go Slow: The smaller communities changed the pace of each day at camp. Except for the bells bringing us together for meals, the living unit cohort had the ability to set the schedule for the day based on how the group was feeling and what campers and staff wanted to do. There were hikes that became hammock and book reading experiences and games activities that became forest explorations. Because of the consistent time spent with their campers, staff members were better able to plan trips and activities for them. The slower pace was also a respite from the “must-do, must-do”, harried, fragmented, noisy and exceptionally uncertain world outside of camp.

Provide Structure: Yet even though the pace was slower, making sure campers and staff had a framework and plan for each day continued to be important. An important addition to that normal camp structure was a new, nightly meeting called “Round-Up”. Each evening, the living unit would gather together and go through the following:

  • Shout-outs: gratitude and thank you’s to people inside and outside of the group, an opportunity to acknowledge and appreciate the big and little individual efforts made that positively impacted the community.
  • Ownerships: sometimes we make mistakes that hurt or have a negative impact our community; taking ownership for those mistakes or missteps allows us to take responsibility for our actions/behaviors, build community compassion, and allow everyone to move on.
  • Team Time: could be a fun game, could be a thoughtful question, could be a teambuilding activity…the sky is the limit (but bedtime is also a limit…so most evenings this was a reflection on the day)
  • Crystal Ball: What is happening in the future? What does the next day look like? What does the next week look like? Who has questions? How do we want this to look?

Staff and campers both appreciated this structure in the evenings, and it also allowed the staff to get on the same page and be more strategic in their work and goals for individual campers and their efficacy as a team.

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Simplicity: Compared to the outside world, camp is a pretty simple place. You have a bed, you have a limited amount of personal stuff, you have set meal times, you have planned activity blocks, you have set bedtimes, and you don’t have any technology to distract you. When you go backpacking, horsepacking, camping or climbing in the backcountry, you bring even less and have even more focus and purpose. The simple act of silently watching the sun rise or taking the time to watch a deer watching you or playing UNO for hours in a tent with your friends is why a day at camp feels like a year, but a week at camp feels like a day. Simplicity narrows our options, which eases the burden of decision-making and allows us just to be.

Sense of Control: Technology, and social media specifically, provides an illusion of control. Kids (and adults) can turn on their phones and “connect” with other people, but the social currency of “likes” and “loves” and the exposure to cyberbullying, trolling and the nonstop consumption of images and information can be harmful to the development of authentic connections and confidence, especially for developing brains.

Taking the time to build community and understand the pace and structure of camp in smaller groups this summer gave the campers and staff more of a sense of control of the whole camp experience. Because staff members had more autonomy and more responsibility when it came to their individual campers’ outcomes, the first two weeks of camp forced them to work together, to try new things, and to develop competence in outdoor, leadership and youth development skills faster than ever before. Out of that new-found competence came confidence. Similarly for the campers, the smaller community, evening round-ups and time together increased trust and provided the authentic, real-time, IRL (in real life) relationships kids need to feel like they know, understand and trust the people around them and themselves.

Something to Believe In: Many camps this summer struggled to find staff. Even though good men are often hard to find (and tend to apply really late in the season), we had an exceptional–and robust–group of exceptionally talented and committed staff members. In a normal summer, we believe in and ask a lot of our staff. During the 2021 summer, we asked even more–and what they accomplished was nothing short of amazing. Each and every one of them believed in and had committed to 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.” They also were deeply invested in the experience for themselves and for the campers. Everyone needed this time in the natural world, these authentic connections to others, this opportunity for personal growth and this space to regain possibility and curiosity. After losing our 2020 summer camp season, we all needed to believe we could stay healthy and let camp happen…and we did it…together.

Somewhere to Belong: This belief in the experience helped create the vessel of the summer–and into it poured the campers from all over the country and world who really hungered for and ached for a consistent community where they could feel a sense of connection and belonging. We had campers and staff who had not been in a classroom with peers since March of 2020. We had campers and staff who had spent most of the pandemic with their immediate families. We had campers and staff who had lost their sense of direction and purpose and were dealing with anxiety resulting from the uncertainty of the unknown. Camp was a foundational and grounding experience for all of us. This year, it was both known and new in many ways, but it was the community we all needed.

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Support: Camp staff are called “camp counselors” for a reason: they support, nurture and guide the growth and development of the campers. It is a hard, hard job. Amy Scott (LJLJ), our mental health specialist, led a staff training session called, “You Have All of the Tools” because, in most cases, we all do. The long and the short of it is this: each of us has the capacity to hold space for each other if we can acknowledge that we all have emotions and emotions are like the weather: always there and always changing. Many times, all we need is to be heard and the storm can pass through us. Counselors (both at camp and with credentials) provide support by being there and giving individuals permission to experience, acknowledge and grow beyond their emotions. People sometimes get stuck, but most of the time, people–and especially children–don’t need us to try and fix the situation. They need us to be there…and, at camp, we have the time and the space and the people to be here for kids and for each other.

Security: The pandemic has exposed many inequities in our society. Housing, food, health, workplace and financial insecurities have added layers to the pandemic that are complicated and difficult to understand or quickly resolve. The overarching uncertainty and insecurity we are all feeling makes it difficult to know what we should do…individually, collectively, for our family, for our friends, for our communities, for our country. So everyone is trying everything. Or, in the words of a pithy bumper sticker (Alexander Hamilton did NOT actually say, or sing, this), “If you stand for nothing, then you’ll fall for everything.”

So we took a stand last summer and we required PCR tests, campers and staff consistently wore masks in their living units for the first few days of camp, we told counselors who weren’t vaccinated they wouldn’t be able to leave the property for time off, we encouraged campers to get vaccinated if they could, we tested unvaccinated campers weekly until our bubble was formed, counselors couldn’t go to concerts or sporting events or eat indoors during their time-off, our off-site support staff wore masks anytime they interacted with our staff or campers, our counselors wore masks in all public spaces all summer long…the list goes on and on. Yet the security didn’t come from all of the measures we put in place, it came from the trust we placed in our campers, our staff members, our camp families to follow the guidelines and to do the right thing individually so they could protect the experience for each other.

And they did.

Security is knowing that you can count on the people and resources around you to provide you with what you need to survive. Summer 2021 taught us that we can not only survive, but thrive.

Kids have always needed a healthy dose of the “s” words to help them grow and “s”ucceed at home, in school, at camp and in life. Since the world of children is created by the world of adults, we should continue to be intentional in our creation, thoughtful in our consumption, and powerful in our protection of the children in our care.

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Ariella Rogge
About Ariella Rogge

Ariella started her career at Sanborn when she was twelve. After five years of camper and five years of Sanborn staff experience, she continued her work with kids in the high school classroom. Ariella and her family returned to Sanborn in 2001 to take on the Program Director role which she held til 2012. She and Elizabeth Marable became co-directors of High Trails in 2013 and then Ariella became the High Trails Director in 2020. In the fall of 2022 she became the Director of Sanborn Western Camps, overseeing the director teams of both Big Spring and High Trails. She lists mountain golf, Gymkhana, climbing mountains and making Pad Thai in the backcountry as some of her favorite activities at camp. Ariella received a B.A. in English from Colorado College and is a certified secondary English educator,an ACCT Level 2 Ropes Course Technician, an ARC lifeguard and NREMT and WEMT. She lives in Florissant in the summer and in Green Mountain Falls during the school year so she can stay involved with the busy lives of her husband, Matt, and two teenage sons, Lairden and Karsten.