It’s sure nice to have everyone return to the office after attending the American Camp Association National Conference in New Orleans this year. When 11 of my most favorite people are all absent from the office at once, it sure makes for a lonely week, but then they all return full of excitement about new plans for the summer and ideas for enhancing what we do here at camp. As a seasoned camp squirrel, I know what a driving force these camp leaders are and have seen great innovations come out of their conference learnings.
Jane always organizes a conference debrief meeting shortly after the conference, allowing staff to share in each other’s take-aways and become invigorated all over again. Staff then team up to organize our new insights into action: new staff week training sessions, new program ideas, and more for the rapidly approaching summer. I had the great opportunity to sit in on this meeting and then to interview people afterwards!
Artie the Abert Squirrel (AAS): Why do you believe it is important for so many Sanborn staffers to attend?
Jane: The ACA National Conference helps keep us on the cutting edge. We learn the latest research and information in youth development, education, brain science, and fun program ideas. The conference really inspires us to provide the best experience possible for our campers and staff.
(AAS): Explain a little bit about the format of the conference and why it’s so important for camp professionals to attend?
Elizabeth: There are so many great reasons to attend the National Conference. It is gives us a chance to network with other camp professionals, and like Jane said, stay current on youth development and brain research, hear creative new program ideas; not to mention–at this last conference in New Orleans–the chance to have a beignet at Café Du Monde between breakout sessions. Each day of the conference there is a keynote speaker that everyone has the chance to hear, as well as breakout sessions that cover a variety of topics from staff training to brain science, psychology to program development, and crisis management to effective communication. And in beautiful Louisiana, each day was not complete without an outstanding New Orleans meal as well!
AAS: There were 4 keynote speakers; Jessica Lahey, Scott Cowen, Dr. Deborah Gilboa and Tom Holland. Tell me what you learned from their presentations.
Matthew: Jessica Lahey gave a fantastic keynote. She discussed her forthcoming book “The Gift of Failure,” and how the principles of that book can apply to camp. It was a captivating speech about how we can help children to succeed, but also we must give them room to fail. Lahey outlined a practical approach to teaching campers to discover their own inner independence, resilience, and creativity.
Mike: ‘Dr. G’ spoke to us about the challenges parents face in raising respectful, resilient and responsible children and gave us real-life examples, insightful models and solid tips on how we can continue to strengthen our youth development efforts. Camp is one of the best places to practice and develop these foundational life skills, and with all of us at Dr. G’s keynote, many thoughts and conversations about the summer have begun!
Patrick: After listening to Scott Cowen I really had to stop and think about where High Trails is. He spoke a lot about being aware of where your organization has come from, where it is, and where you want it to go. I really enjoyed this because our organization has a rich history; I love where we are right now, and I feel has a valuable mission and is relevant in the future.
Ariella: Tom Holland was our Closing Keynote speaker and he followed an incredible performance from Dancing Grounds, a New Orleans dance school that “builds community through dance.” The youngsters who performed ranged from about seven to 17 years old and were led by passionate instructors, Randall Rosenberg and Laura Stein. One of the dances they performed was to Michael Jackson’s song, “Scream.” The highly energized and emotive dance revealed the growth during adolescence and a broader cultural narrative of the pressure kids are experiencing across all aspects of society. I know this is true because 15 year old Empress, totally impromptu (and wildly poised under said pressure), stood in front of 1500 conference attendees and described the story of the dance after they finished. Rosenberg and Stein, in their enthusiasm, pride and even in their shout out to the kids’ parents in attendance (who took the time to pull the kids out of school and drive them downtown for the performance) demonstrated exactly what Tom Holland talked about in his keynote: our opportunity to be part of a transformative experience that positively shapes the lives of children. Throughout the conference, threads and themes came together giving us tools and language to promote quality youth development at camp–and that development starts with supportive adult relationships–which is exactly what Dancing Grounds and ACA camps across the country create and nurture every single day.
AAS: There were 4 days of sessions that ranged from youth development strategies, camp protocols, marketing solutions, and so much more – what were some of your favorite sessions?
Sarah: I enjoyed Kristen Race’s session about Mindful Campers and Leaders. She gave me some new ideas and tools for debriefing activities and reflective listening strategies for not only myself but for summer staff as well!
Janie: One of my favorite sessions was led by Michael Brandwein and Dr. Debi Gilboa. The session was about ways to set up a positive camp culture starting on the very first day. Both of these presenters had so much helpful information to share. If you want to learn more about them visit their websites: Michael Brandwein and Dr. Debi Gilboa.
Jackson: I enjoyed learning about autonomy supported programs. These range from natural play areas, of which we have plenty to a “dream space” area on our trip sign-up sheets for campers to formulate their dream trip or activity, and we can do our best to make it happen! I also enjoyed continuing to learn how the developing brain works and tools to calm the alarm system in our brains. I look forward to showing this information and these skills to campers in a non-stressful setting so when campers to become stressed, at camp or at home, they have used practice and tools they’ve learned from camp to deal with certain stressors.
Carlotta: I went to a session called Kickin’ Kitchens which asked you to think about the kitchen like a systems engineer by thinking about how easy and obvious can you make the routines of the kitchen for everyone working there from the cooks to the assistant counselors. I am so excited for our kitchens to run even more smoothly this summer!
Jessie: There were quite a few sessions that focused on autonomy and the idea that competence in an area leads to confidence. I am excited to use this idea on trips this summer and to bring the campers more into the planning of trips, especially menus, and to teach them even more throughout the trip, which would give them the competence needed for the responsibility of preparing meals, leading the way, and finding the perfect campsites.
There you have it folks – the ACA National Conference keeps my staffer friends on their toes and ready to enhance the lives of children every summer. Stay tuned for upcoming posts from them that go into more detail about all the research on brain development, and teaching kids autonomy and independence. For now, I learned that interviewing 11 different people is hard work and I’m ready for a snack and a nap! – see you this summer!
Artie the Abert Squirrel
Artie is a well- loved member of the Sanborn wildlife family and official spokes-squirrel to the greater Sanborn community. He has been a long time contributor to the High Country Explorer sharing his knowledge of camp life with campers new and old. Artie is currently practicing his balloon animal creating skills with Jane and knows Jerry’s actual birthdate. Artie is honored to have the opportunity to write for this blog.