“Go placidly amid the noise and haste” marks the beginning of a 1927 prose poem, “Desiderata,” by American writer Max Ehrmann. A copy of this well-known piece, the Latin translation of which is “things wanted or needed,” hangs in the reception area at Cape Cod Sea Camps and amplifies not only the sometimes-tumultuous nature of summer camp, but also, most likely, the process of getting there in the first place.
Why might that be the case?
Simply because of the sheer number of programmatic options for teens and young adults: potential campers and counselors, one and all.
According to TeenLife Media (TLM), which connects students, parents, and educators with experiential learning opportunities outside the classroom, such programs help youth do better in school, during the all-important college admissions process and, ultimately, in their adult lives.
Thus, how students choose to spend their summer breaks is extraordinarily consequential.
Although it’s hard to quantify all the potential choices young people have, TeenLife has identified more than 13,000 experiences for those in grades seven–12. They include the following (TLM, 2018):
- Summer programs such as sports camps, art and theatre camps, academic summer sessions, high school science summer programs, and study abroad opportunities
- Gap-year programs, including work internships, premed programs, and adventure trips
- Volunteer commitments with nonprofits or community-service organizations
- STEM-based curriculum
- Performing and visual arts programs
- Therapeutic schools and therapies
- College and university-based academic opportunities (including ones related to enrichment, athletics, math and science, diversity, languages, faith, coding, humanities, journalism, science, investigative reporting, and environmental health sciences
- Tutoring and test prep
Sorting for the Summer
While parents and, in some cases, professional consultants guide young people in the sifting and sorting of options, many have their eyes firmly focused on preventing summer learning loss and enhancing skills that one day will infuse the employability of college graduates, including — but not limited to — the development of “soft, critical thinking” capacity encapsulating the constructs of communication, collaboration, and creativity (Wallace, 2016).
The National Summer Learning Association (NSLA) is a national, nonprofit organization focused on the powerful impact of one achievable goal: investing in summer learning to help close the achievement gap. Rightly so, NSLA also provides an important lens through which we can learn about, and build programming that addresses, summer learning loss.
A HuffPost piece on the topic raises the question, “Can ‘Summer Slide’ Be Prevented?” In short, the article says yes. Moreover, it points to the extent of the problem, citing NSLA’s research revealing that 66 percent of teachers spend three to four weeks (and 24 percent spend five to six weeks) at the beginning of school reteaching course content from the prior academic year (Klein, 2013).
Referring to such “Brain Drain,” ThinkStretch says, “Most students lose about two months of grade level equivalency in reading and mathematical computation skills over the summer months.” Yet it also offers the following assessment: “To succeed in school and life, children need ongoing opportunities to learn and practice essential skills. This is especially true during the summer months . . . a glorious time for exploratory learning, creative pursuits, and outdoor activities” (ThinkStretch, 2018).
Sounds like summer camp to me!
Summer Brain Gain
Indeed, experiential learning in summer camp environments can dramatically improve individual learning and personal growth. According to the American Camp Association, gains for youth attending camp include the following (ACA, 2018):
- Friendship skills (i.e., make friends and maintain relationships)
- Independence (i.e., rely less on adults and other people for solving problems and for their day-to-day activities)
- Teamwork (i.e., become more effective when working in groups of their peers)
- Family citizenship (i.e., encourage attributes important to being a member of a family)
- Perceived competence (i.e., believe that they can be successful in the things they do)
- Interest in exploration (i.e., be more curious, inquisitive, eager to learn new things)
- Responsibility (i.e., learn to be accountable for their own actions and mistakes)
- Affinity for nature (i.e., develop feelings of emotional attraction toward nature)
- Problem-solving confidence (i.e., believe they have abilities to resolve problems)
- Camp connectedness (i.e., feeling welcomed and supported at camp)
- Spiritual well-being (i.e., having purpose and meaning in life, transcendence)
The Competition — Internships and College Prep
Clearly, there exists a cluttered landscape of summer options for young adults. Chief among them seem to be perceived needs to land internships to beef up résumés (for camp staff) or to stay home to prepare for standardized testing and other general college prep (for older campers or young counselors).
With regard to internships, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) says, “Students pursue internships because they want to gain professional experience that links their academic coursework to the disciplines they want to pursue for their careers. To gain this experience, students want to engage in projects and tasks that contribute to the professional work of the organization . . . it provides a meaningful experience that allows for the application of academic knowledge” (NACE, 2018).
Dan Fleshler, in a seminal New York Times piece, “The Camp Counselor vs. the Intern,” shared the dilemma presented within his family; “In an act of quiet rebellion, my daughter will spend this summer as a counselor at a sleep-away camp in the Adirondacks. As rebellions go, this one is admittedly very tame. But she is resisting considerable pressure to join the throngs of anxious fellow collegians (she’s finishing her junior year) who will pad their résumés with summer internships in corporations, charities, law firms and other employers that, according to conventional wisdom, offer better preparation for the brutal economy than a summer camp . . . .
“Anyone can be a camp counselor, I said, and in this economy, she can’t afford to be just anyone. She needs to show that she is exceptional, to bedazzle potential employers, to brand herself. Just one line on the résumé could spell the difference between joining the millions of college grads lounging on their parents’ couches and a fabulous entry-level gig with Martin Scorsese — or, if she changes vocational directions, another rung on the ladder to success.”
Ultimately, Fleshler comes to refute that conventional wisdom, citing NACE data suggesting that “unpaid internships offer no advantage to the job-seeking student.”
His final conclusion? He agrees with his daughter’s assertion that “the work was incomparable preparation for the future, requiring the skills to manage group projects and motivate individuals, set goals and juggle tight schedules, and stay available for 24 hours a day, six days a week, in sickness and in health . . . . If I wake up with those fears this summer, I will try to tell myself that in a society where great camp counselors — like great teachers — are absurdly undervalued, her insistence on going back to camp demonstrates a great deal of toughness” (Fleshler, 2012).
Similarly, then-19-year-old Bates College student Sam Francis also faced a choice that was chronicled in the Psychology Today column “End Game — A Different Path to Workforce Development.” I stated what to me seemed painfully obvious: “While equating employment as a camp counselor with ‘play’ undervalues the very real responsibility and effort required to be successful, it is certainly the case that much of the work lines up nicely with, well, fun” (Wallace, 2015).
Sam told me, “For sure, the pull of the ‘real world’ is hard to ignore. I am currently in the process of finding summer work and I have just assumed I would get an internship at some large company, just as every other economics and math major does. Then it dawned on me that I have my whole life to wear suits and go to the office 9:00 to 5:00. A friend who took the expected route advised me to do something this summer that I may not have the opportunity to do again.”
So, he chose camp, a decision reinforced by a research-based article, “The Impact of Camp Employment on the Workforce Development of Emerging Adults,” published in the Journal of Park and Recreation Administration. It “highlights positive workforce development opportunities for camp staff and cites outcomes related to interpersonal interactions, communication, problem solving, and leadership.” The factors influencing those outcomes included developing intrinsic motivation for working at camp, being pushed out of one’s comfort zone, participating in a supportive community, and receiving positive feedback (Duerden et al., 2014).
As Barry Garst, PhD, associate professor of youth development leadership at Clemson University and a senior research fellow and national advisory board member at the Center for Adolescent Research and Education, told me in an email, “Employers are looking for young adults who are well prepared with a range of 21st-century skills and an ability to work effectively within a global society. Research supports the contributions of camp experiences, with rich opportunities for responsibility and collaborative decision-making, in building workforce development skills in young adult staff, including problem-solving, interpersonal communication, and leadership.”
Another source of attrition from camp is a train wreck known as the college test prep, search, application, and admissions process. More than a few campers and counselors succumb to the pressure of preparation. Fortunately, however, technology has now produced options that may very well provide the flexibility and space for tutoring and test prep among other summer plans. Companies with an online presence in the tutoring and test prep space, such as Trilogy Mentors, ACT Online Prep, Khan Academy, and Ray Dass Test Prep, may alleviate some of this academic pressure, self-imposed or otherwise.
“Some independent schools have ‘required summer tutoring hours’ for students who receive below a certain grade in a class,” explains John Failla, founder of Trilogy Mentors. “Oftentimes, these students have plans to attend summer camps long before they receive their final grades and, in some cases, required tutoring assignments. If one of the students works with Trilogy over the summer, we are able to deliver a report to the independent school, documenting [through our platform] the number of tutoring hours the student performed.”
Beyond the academic gains offered through technology are the simple, but powerful, inputs a summer camp experience provides. Those I outlined in my March 2018 TeenLife Media article, “10 Reasons Why High School Students Will Get a Lot From Summer Camp,” include accountability, confidence, exploration, responsibility, and spirituality (Wallace, 2018).
Other life lessons learned at camp, as expressed to me by teens ages 14–17, include patience, trustworthiness, identity formation, kindness, empathy, respect, honesty, perseverance, and self-advocacy.
Many kids simply say they are their “best selves” at summer camp!
Summer Camp amid the Noise and Haste
The many technology-fueled tutoring and test prep companies online may indeed help young people and their families plan for a summer at camp amid the noise and haste of preparing for college, thereby raising, and possibly answering, the question, “Internship, test prep — or camp?”
The latter deemed wanted and needed.
- American Camp Association. (2018). Frequently asked questions about the ACA youth outcomes battery. American Camp Association. ACAcamps.org/resource-library/research/ frequently-asked-questions-about-aca-youthoutcomes-battery (18 July 2018).
- ACT. (2018). ACT online prep. act.org/content/act/en/products-and-services/the-act/testpreparation/act-online-prep.html (18 July 2018).
- Duerden, M., Witt, P., Garst, B., Bialeschki, D., Schwarzlose, T., & K. Norton. (2014). The impact of camp employment on the workforce development of emerging adults. Journal of Park and Recreation Administration. Spring 2014. Volume 32, Number 1, pp. 26–44.
- Ehrmann, M. (1927). Desiderata. The Poems of Max Ehrmann. Boston: Bruce Humphries Publishing Company. 1948.
- Fleshler, D. (2012). The camp counselor vs. the intern. The New York Times. May 29, 2012. parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/29/thecamp-counselor-vs-the-intern/ (18 July 2018).
- Hoyt, E. (2018). Summer programs for high school students. FastWeb. April 12, 2018. fastweb.com/ college-search/articles/summer-programs-forhigh- school-students (18 July 2018).
- Khan Academy. (2018). khanacademy.org/sat (18 July 2018).
- Klein, R. (2013). Summer learning loss study: can ‘summer slide’ be prevented? HuffPost. June 21, 2013. huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/21/summer-learning-loss-study_n_3391594.html (18 July 2018).
- NACE. (2018). Position statement: U.S. internships. National Association of Colleges and Employers. naceweb.org/about-us/advocacy/positionstatements/position-statement-us-internships/ (18 July 2018).
- NSLA. (2018). Smarter summer, brighter futures. National Summer Learning Association. summerlearning.org/ (18 July 2018).
- O’Neal, J. (2016). Tutoring startup going virtual. Richmond Biz-Sense. October 27, 2016. richmondbizsense.com/2016/10/27/tutoringstartup-going-virtual/ (18 July 2018).
- Raydass.com. (2018). Ray Dass Test Prep. raydass.com/ (18 July 2018).
- ThinkStretch. (2018). Summer learning loss. thinkstretch.com/our-difference/summerlearning-loss/ (18 July 2018).
- TLM. (2018). 13,000 Experiences for students in grades 7–12. TeenLife Media LLC. Teenlife.com. teenlife.com/ (18 July 2018).
- Wallace, S. (2018). 10 reasons why high school students will get a lot from summer camp. TeenLife. Retrieved from teenlife.com/blogs/10-reasons-why-high-school-students-will-get-lotcamp?view=preview
- Wallace, S. (2016). In the middle of September. LinkedIn. September 15, 2016. linkedin.com/pulse/middle-september-stephen-graywallace/?trk=prof-post (18 July 2018).
- Wallace, S. (2015). End game — a different path to workforce development. Psychology Today. April 10, 2015. psychologytoday.com/us/blog/decisionsteens-make/201504/end-game (18 July 2018).
Stephen Gray Wallace, MS Ed, is president and director of the Center for Adolescent Research and Education (CARE), a national collaborative of institutions and organizations committed to increasing favorable youth outcomes and reducing negative risk behaviors. He has broad experience as a school psychologist and adolescent/ family counselor and serves as director of counseling and counselor training at Cape Cod Sea Camps, a member of the professional development faculty at the American Academy of Family Physicians and American Camp Association and a parenting expert at kidsinthehouse.com, NBCUniversal’s parenttoolkit.com and WebMD. He is also an expert partner at RANE (Risk Assistance Network & Exchange) and was national chairman and chief executive officer at SADD for more than 15 years. Additional information about Stephen’s work can be found at StephenGrayWallace.com.