Archive for the ‘Evolving Education’ Category

Family Time, Game Time

Thursday, December 15th, 2016

Passing the Wah in "The Wah Game" can get really crazy.

This afternoon was our annual COEC holiday luncheon. We get together and sit around the tables at The Nature Place to enjoy good food and the fellowship of our coworkers. As Mike said, “we all work together, yet sometimes only see each other in passing or on this day”. The ranch is big and our duties are various, yet we are all working toward a common mission. It is fun to sit around a table together and laugh about the funny stories that have made up the past year. It is like sitting around the tables at both the High Trails and Big Spring lodges during the summer and sharing stories of daily adventures or long trips.

Football is the not only game that requires a huddle. Giants, Elves, & Wizards also requires a solid game plan.

We know that many of you will soon be traveling to be with family or will be welcoming family into your home. The stories and conversations will flow out while enjoying a delicious meal. We imagine some of these stories will be told by current campers and will probably lead into to memories from all of you former campers. We can just hear the stories now…

“We were hiking uphill all 22 miles from Tipi Village to Quicks Homestead” (We know camp stories tend to sound a lot like fishin’ stories) “It was so hot, so we stopped for water and a game break. Our counselor taught us this new game called Llama Llama. It’s so hilarious!”

Stories are the best! And so are games! We recently discovered that were too many people in the office who had no idea how to do the Broom Dance. Jane and Ariella were shocked and saddened, and soon the ninja squirrels outside could hear some raucous broom dancing. “Cough-cough AHEM!” It took a while for everyone to catch on, that it was hard to dance because we were laughing so much, but we are proud to say the entire Sanborn office can now do the Broom Dance.

Games put a smile on everyone's face around here - Enjoy!

It got us thinking, though, about all our favorite camp games. There are many that bring up memories of fun counselors, or that time so-and-so fell down playing Ninja. There are the debates over the correct rules for Crossed and Uncrossed or the Stick Game. Even with all the discussion and A Bag of Tricks book, we came to the consensus that Jane’s rules are THE rules.

So at your family gatherings this year, when the stories die down, what do you do next? Not the dishes! Ask your current campers to teach you the Llama game, the 2016 Sanborn Game of the Year, or any of their favorites. You ‘ol timers can brush up on your broom dance. This is a great way to share memories of camp with friends and family around your table – well after, or before, the dishes are done.

P.S. If you need a refresher on how to play a game, check out Youtube or just Google it. We were surprised at how many tutorials we could find.

A Sense of Wonder

Thursday, March 17th, 2016

Enjoying the sunset at Top of the World

Many of us can remember “a moment of wonder” at camp when time stopped as we watched a Red Tail fly through the sky, or when we witnessed a sunset so beautiful it took our breath away. Perhaps we were amazed by the stars glittering in the night sky, or by the colors of the wild iris in the field below Witcher Rocks. “To inspire a sense of wonder” has always been part of the mission of the camps, and we hope that everyone who comes to camp experiences many such moments at Big Spring and High Trails.

The importance of a sense of wonder for all of us, and especially for young people, cannot be over emphasized. Scott Barry Kaufman, author of “Wired to Create” recently spoke at an American Camp Association conference we all attended.  He provided research to show that a “sense of awe” as he termed it, greatly enhances curiosity and creativity, skills that are sadly diminishing among today’s youth. Other speakers at the conference demonstrated how the simple act of “noticing” in the natural world can lead to awareness, joy, and a deep connection with nature.

Use your imagination to build a fort like the Trappers would have done over a hundred years ago!

The term “sense of wonder” was coined by Rachel Carson in a 1956 essay. Though she planned to write a book on the subject, she died in 1963 before completing the project. However, her notes were used to create a book called “Sense of Wonder”, that was published posthumously in 1965.  When Carson wrote her essay, she was already seeing signs that many children no longer had access to the wild places that were abundant for our agricultural forbears.

Carson could not have predicted, however, the changes in society which have occurred in the past 60 years. In 2006, Richard Louv picked up Carson’s theme with his bestseller, “Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder”. The research is now significant and it all shows that children need time spent in the natural world in the same way they need food and sleep.  And, while we now understand the power of this need, studies also show that the amount of time children are spending in the natural world is decreasing each year.

Where will these seeds go?

Two significant, and simple, realizations have become clear through the research. One: it is through a personal connection to the natural world that a child experiences the most powerful benefits of a nature experience. This is the same emotional feeling described in the phrase “Sense of Wonder”. Two: young people are 90% more likely to experience this personal connection with nature if they explore the natural world with an adult mentor who also has a personal connection.

Rachel Carson was prescient in this; in her 1956 article she said “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.”

“To inspire a sense of wonder” is still an important part of our mission and we are becoming ever more intentional about ensuring that each person who comes to camp leaves with a personal connection to the natural world. A sense of wonder can also be enhanced in a garden, a park, an alley, or just by looking at the stars. So go outside today, notice what is around you—and take a child with you.

From the Summer Staff Perspective

Friday, December 18th, 2015

Camp has an incredible impact on campers, but it also impacts our staff members in equally powerful ways. It allows us to reflect on the impact of our experiences and the strength of connections made during our childhood and adolescence. It gives us a perspective on the challenges of growing up that we don’t experience again until we have children of our own. And, possibly most important, it allows us to see ourselves through the eyes, actions and needs of another. We have incredible staff at Sanborn Western Camps because, as an organization, we ask them to put the needs of the campers before their own. The staff members who remain present and focused on the campers’ development end up being the ones who take away camps’ biggest lesson: how to empathize and care deeply for others–and to hold yourself accountable. As one of our long-time staff members and former campers, Iska Nardie-Warner, shared in her following response on self-reflection, “They will ask similar questions of you, and you might want [to have] your answers ready.”

Camp changes the way girls perceive themselves.

I was writing [this] and ended up getting super nostalgic for camp, the staff, and the campers. Anyway, I just thought I’d share some of what camp has given me these past 3 years mostly because I think that sharing in the moment is cool and not done enough, but also because tis the season you know?


Though I have had many reasons for returning to Sanborn, the opportunity to communicate to young girls the power that comes from living outdoors in a solely female community surely covers the main of it.


Fortunately for me, the past two summers have been spent living and working with the same girls. And I can honestly say that watching each and everyone of those unique, talented, and beautiful young ladies challenge themselves physically, emotionally and grow in themselves has been a blessing. We all remember the challenges of being a fifteen-year old girl and to help these special ladies recognize their connections to (and love for) each other and the strength they build when they rely not only upon themselves but each other as well is making a difference.


Camp changes the way girls perceive themselves. Less and less, you will observe, the girls worry about the need to look or act a specific way: instead, they focus on climbing 14,000 foot mountains, riding horses with control, and most importantly asking questions of the world, themselves. And don’t be fooled, they will ask similar questions of you, and you might want your answers ready.


The power of fifteen-year old girls is undoubtedly underestimated. There is something striking about waking each morning and having to explain yourself and your thoughts and actions, almost immediately, to your girls. Their insatiable curiosity prompts repeated recognition of the importance of self-reflection for a counselor.


Honestly, I cherish explaining why my opinions on the importance of female empowerment provide the drive behind my work as a counselor: Sanborn becomes the intersection of theory and practice, for me, and I only fully-understand that because of self-reflection, sometimes prompted by the intelligent young ladies that populate that camp. In other words, these girls challenge me just as much as I plan on challenging them each summer. And I know they will give me just as much as I am willing to give them.

"And I know they will give me just as much as I am willing to give them." Avery (left), a current camper, with Iska (right) during their long trip in Summer 2015.


I could never take my role in their life lightly, and plan to never take for granted the role they have played in mine either because they really are the most special, funny, witty, charming, intelligent, kind, poised, and lovable young women. I miss them to pieces and know that they will be some of the best JCs and people this world has ever seen. And Sanborn—as a place that changes lives forever (for the better)—would be lucky to have any of them that can return.

Cheers,

Iska

Thank you Iska for sharing your thoughts with us and our greater Camp community. We are so excited to continue impacting each other with our campers and staff members as the New Year approaches and brings Summer 2016 with it.

Reflections and Realizations

Tuesday, June 16th, 2015
Camp is finally here! We are all together again! My skin can barely hold all joy and excitement inside me! It is absolutely amazing to see everyone, staff and campers, in the lodge, on the trails and playing in the fields. What we’ve discussed for the last ten days is finally being out to practice. First year counselors and fourth year counselors are seamlessly blending together as a group of strong mentors for this group of young people we’ve welcomed home in the last 24 hours. Everyone is experiencing the first few days of Summer 2015 together and looking forward to all the adventure and fun in store.
As I struggle to sleep tonight with all this excitement, I’ve also been reflecting on the past 10 days of training and the conversations I know have happened at both Big Spring and High Trails. The impact will we have on their lives as counselors, wranglers, or leaders on trips this summer is remarkable. We talked about ways to help campers learn both hard and soft skills and build competence and confidence; not only in their lives at camp, but throughout their lives outside of camp. Staff members are taking to heart all the ideas presented to the group and looking for ways they can impact campers.

Celebrating the summit of Mt. Elbert on day 4 of the 2010 1st Session Elbert/ Massive Trip.

This helped me recognize something special about this summer for me. Many of my junior campers from my first summer on staff are now the Junior Counselors (JCs) at High Trails. In fact, a great many of our staff members were also former campers on trips of mine. Over the past ten days, I’ve realized that some of my favorite people in the world are on the staff this summer – it’s because they are the people that made a huge impact on my life!

These are the ladies that were campers on the first backpacking trip I led, on the first trip with 2 mountain climbs, and on the trip that the rain would never stop and I had dreams of our tents floating away. These were the trips that have shaped me into the mountain woman I am today. I remember those instances that I didn’t speak with grace first, I didn’t come into each conversation with the thought of teaching first. Those are the trips that were wonderful in their many missteps and these are the ladies that trusted me to guide them, teach them and celebrate with them….even when I didn’t feel I had the competence and confidence that I was trying so humbly to help them gain.

All the 2015 staff members who I first met when they were campers and took out on trips. (And Ariella too, who has always been a rock of support)

These are the ladies that impacted my life in so many positive and most important ways.

There is a phrase we use around here sometimes, because of camp… Well, because of camp, I have gained the skills and self-confidence of a great leader, all while being too busy playing in the dirt and hiking with my girls to notice.
To the parents who send their most precious treasures to camp, thank you, you are giving our staff members a most precious gift–the gift of being able to grow and change alongside your sons and daughters.

- Jessie

Thoughts From the ACA National Conference: Artie the Abert Squirrel Chats with Sanborn Staffers

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

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!

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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.

Big Spring Journeys to the Center of the Earth

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

The day began at the Victor Lowell Thomas Museum, where, although it was their off season, they had graciously offered to give us a tour of the surface mine in Victor. We waited in the museum around a portable propane heater (they will have year-round heat and a bathroom by next year) until our van/tour bus arrived.

For whatever reason we weren't given orange vests.

Our knowledgeable driver, Dick, apologized the first few minutes the few times he drew a blank—he hasn’t driven a tour since fall. We began by driving through the historic downtown of Victor, and then moved on to the surface mine overlooking the town. We drove 1,000 feet down to the base of a dig, were shown where the raw materials are brought, and finally allowed to climb on one of their retired trucks, which, years ago when full of its rock load, weighed over 1 million pounds.

We ate a pleasant lunch at one of the many trailheads winding and looping around the old Victor mines, where in the summer we hope to bring the campers.

Our afternoon began at the Pikes Peak Heritage Museum in Cripple Creek, built in 2007. It is a beautiful facility, and we were given the scavenger hunt that school groups are given when in the center. Mike Piel was the only one who seemed to care enough about completing the scavenger hunt, and completed all but 2 questions, due to time. We also watched a very informative 30-minute film on the origins of the mines in Cripple Creek and Victor.

Last was the jail museum, where we were allowed to wander in and out of the old cells, graffiti from inmates still covering the walls. Some of us were even locked inside the cells—temporarily, of course.

With all this great new information we can’t wait to rework our summer Cripple Creek trip, and to create our new all-day trip to Victor!

Evolving Education: Exploring Nature Together

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

In a recent Edutopia column, Mark Phillips writes about schools, happiness, and nature.

Sounds about right.

Phillips on Nature as a Teacher and at-risk students:

While most adolescents aren’t identified as “at-risk,” there is considerable evidence that an increasing and significant number are stressed, depressed, and/or emotionally detached. Adolescent suicide levels are much higher than they should be. Sleep deprivation is a significant problem. And more and more kids are more connected to their computers than they are to the world outside. Schools and parents would do well to consider that educational programs with a wilderness component could provide both compensation and amelioration of some of the negative effects of contemporary culture.

And on the Need for Connection:

Too often our schools have nothing to do with character or place and are part of that anonymous monotonous landscape. Too many of our children are more familiar with the mall or town square than they are with the woods that may lie only a few miles away. In my own San Francisco Bay Area, I never cease to be surprised by how many inner city kids have never been in the wilderness, though there are wilderness areas less than a half hour away. And in the heavily wooded county in which I live, few schools integrate those areas into the educational experience.

Mark Phillips is a columnist for the Marin Independent Journal and the The Answer Sheet. He volunteers with the California Film Institute’s Educational Outreach Program and serves on the Board of the Buck Institute for Education. You can find him @MarkPSF on Twitter or on Facebook

Evolving Education: Rodrick Lucero & the Educational Landscape, Part Two

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

The following is the second part of Rodrick Lucero’s keynote speech from the 2012 ACA Conference:

The journey to being an educator has been repeated over and over again in the last 150 years as emerging teachers “cut their teeth” in the day camp and residential camp environments.  It is here that they learned the art of teaching…the way to apply content (relevance), the way to challenge students to think critically (rigor), and the way engage campers as members of a community (relationships).  Relevance, Rigor, and Relationship have become the new “three R’s”, as the former (Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic) cannot be effectively learned without the new “three R’s”.  Famed Psychologist, Abraham Maslow reminds us in his Hierarchy of human needs that if we as educators can take care of the human-ness of our students, their psychological safety, their physical safety, and their sense of belonging, then and only then will we be able to teach them, and learn beside them, and discover with them in ways that engage their learning.  There is some research out there that discusses the “summer dip”.  I’m not sure that I buy into much of this research, but I do know that there is no summer dip when kids are actively engaged in camp activities that encourage them to apply what they know…this is learning, and it is different than memorization.

It seems to me that schools do a great job of asking students to engage in the theoretical learning, learning that is taken at face value as valid.  Whereas camps ask students to apply the knowledge that they have learned in school, and use these learning in their explorations of the natural world.  One might read about the Milky Way, and its place in the cosmos in the context of their Environmental Science class.  They might even be able to identify constellations from a computer generated model…but it’s when they lay on grassy hill at night that the Milky Way becomes real, and the constellations jump from the computer screen and become material upon which to engage the imagination, Cephus the king, Cassiopeia, and Orion, indeed!

So, if we imagine schools as primarily engaged with rigor and camps primarily engaged with relevance then where do relationships fit? They belong in both.  The ability to make and maintain friendship is a condition of our human existence…Children learned this from their first years.  We need relationships.

So, then it is up to us in the schools and the camps to make sure our environments are filled with opportunities to make and maintain these human connections and friendships.  It’s in the eyes of others that we learn more about ourselves, and which becomes the “cement” or “glue” that holds us close to our most treasured learning experiences.  It is in the mirror of relationship that learning gains meaning and where it finds a context with which we can base our next learning.

So, we create the inescapable bond between traditional educational environments (schools), and less traditional educational environments (camps).  Much of what I have discussed thus far is about students and campers, but what about the camper directors, the principals, the counselors, and the teachers…those adults who have committed themselves to making the world a better place.  Those who realize that an investment in a child is the only way to insure a democracy and a future for the planet…maybe we need to send our politicians to camp???  I wonder what might happen if they were placed in a situation where they HAD to help each other climber that mountain, or cross that river?  Maybe some lessons could be learned…but I digress?

Camp personnel are every bit the teachers and leaders of schooling in America.  It is time for the camp community to take their rightful seat at the educational table, and partner, regularly!!  With schools…about innovations that are mutually beneficial…This is a way to do what we do well in our business models and business plans…Simultaneous Renewal!  As Camp Directors train their new crop of counselors are these counselors taught the fundamental importance of their work, in making the world a better place to live…do they understand that every day and every situation is a teachable moment.  How will they “teach” when the disagreement over a care package arises?  How will they teach when a camper is homesick?  How will they teach the appropriate knots that make rock climbing safer and more enjoyable?  How will they teach the beauty of quiet?  How will they teach the importance of genuine care and concern?

I think camp counselors are luckier than teachers, because we get to spend more concerted time with our charges.  We get to know them in an informal way that is often more deep, more human, more real.  We get to see the hurt, the fear, the confusion, the laughter, and the silliness, and we get to use the tools of our trade to help them overcome their vulnerabilities…they can do the high ropes course, they can take the hand of a younger camper to help them overcome the heavy back-pack, they can get outside of themselves and see the PURPOSE!  Camp Counselors get to engage students in the depth of their learning, while schools are adept at providing the breadth!  This is the simultaneous renewal that both entities bring to the table…what they bring to the education of every child.

There are other partners in our camp work that I have yet to discuss; the parent community.   How do we educate our parent community on the importance of camp at times of dwindling resources, and longer school years.

First of all we need to understand that the parent community is an important member of the team that educates their child.  It’s critical that we spend time building partnerships, formal and informal with our parent community.  How will they be renewed by sending their child to camp?  Just like their campers, are parents being engaged in the process…and if we were to look at Maslow as a framework, are we taking care of parents needs for physical safety, are we sharing with them how our staff is being trained for supervision at the pool, on the mountain, around the river, what kind of food is being served etc…for their psychological safety, are we sharing with them how our staff is being trained to handle bullying, homesickness, disagreements, etc.  How are we inviting parents to “belong” to the camp community?

This is obviously a difficult balance, as it’s important for parents to allow their children to explore their world, to become more independent.  I think that if all parents are involved in a non-intrusive way in the camp community, and if institutionalize their involvement there will be less need for “more” intrusion.

So, as I reflect upon my comments today, it’s clear that we have made an argument for the importance of camp in the educational life of every child…

If we can argue that camp is critical to the development of a child, then I believe that we, in this room, have to make it a priority to include access to the opportunity of camp to every student…this will cost us financially, but in a very real sense I don’t believe that we can afford, as a society, to have opportunities for some students and not for others…How can we make camp accessible to all children!

… How can this be done, I have no idea, but I enjoy the thought that at some point in our lifetimes, every child can go to camp, every child can have a mentor, and every child can challenge themselves as they figure out their place in the world.  If we can do this well, schools won’t feel the need to elongate their calendars, because their partners at camp will continue the educational enterprise in June, July and August…nothing will be lost, but a well-educated democracy of social justice focused citizens will continue to grow and flourish.

I am here because of each of you, the camp collective, the camp community.  I am here because of camp.  My life was forever changed thirty–one years ago on June 7th…the first day of the first staff-training I experienced, when a camp director told me that camp was about “fun and adventure, but with a purpose”…and on that day I went all in…and continue to engage in “fun and adventure, with an eye…always…on the purpose”.

On that day, I became a camp counselor and it was then that I began to grow beyond myself and it was then that I began to understand the responsibility of my privilege, and it was then that I began becoming a man.  Camp holds me accountable to every decision I make, to this day.  It’s strong hold on my integrity, and the ethical principles (that I have come to value) have made it impossible to sit back and watch injustice…it is camp that engages me to make the world a better place.

You see,

We are all camp,

We are united in the camp spirit,

and We are the future,

We are relevant

We WILL make our mark

We will engage every child in their own learning

We will continue to believe in our mission

We will not be deterred, failure is not an option…because failing our kids is not, nor will it ever be an option!

The answer is ….CAMP

We are camp…

And we are the answer!

Dr. Rodrick S. Lucero is an Associate Professor and Associate Director of the School of Teacher Education and Principal Preparation in the School of Education at Colorado State University and has 10 years’ experience as a camp staff member. He was a well-respected high school teacher and high school administrator for 21 years before moving to his current position. His educational career has been heavily influenced by the relevance inherent in a natural environment and he continually advocates for a myriad of learning environments in order to educate every student effectively. It is at this complex intersection that Rod has fused his passion for nature and his passion for educational opportunities for every child.

Evolving Education: Rodrick Lucero & the Educational Landscape, Part One

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

The following is taken from a keynote speech given by Rodrick Lucero during the 2012 ACA Conference in Atlanta, GA.

Get ready to be inspired.

… My discussion with you will focus on the relationship between what you provide to the education of every child and what schools provide.  My hope is that you will walk away from this keynote with

  • specifics to share with parents about our collective role in the education of every child.
  • a sense of how camp and schools are related in the 21st century
  • a description of skills that camps contribute to the schooling of every child
  • a little bit of research on the importance of camps
  • and renewed vigor in the important work that you do!

Campers:

In tears, a camper shares:  “Camp is such a big part of me…I grew up here; I found out who I am here; I have spent my childhood here; I figured out my values here; and now I know I can do anything!  I am more confident in school now.  I really want to take what camp has given me and share it with the world!”

Another camper notes: School is more fun because of camp, because I figured out who I was, I was able to “find my voice”…and as a result I am more of an active participant in my life…I like school because I am part of the process, not just watching it from the outside looking in.  I have finally learned that when I challenge myself, I can be a better me.”

And yet another:  It’s better to be on a summit with a group, it’s a shared journey, shared worked, shared struggle, and shared rewards!

A staff member writes:  Being outside encourages skills that a classroom can’t touch; problem-solving that combines visceral engagement with intellectual development.  Kids use their bodies and their hands to interact with the world; they have more chances to grow emotionally and socially.   Camp is like school on steroids; I have freedom that spans the out of doors and my “classroom” encompasses whenever I can dream up…kids are more engaged, receptive in nature.  After this experience, I will always make sure that there in an outdoor component to everything I teach.  Here we teach emotional intelligence with every interaction…everyone here is an educator because everything we do is intentional.

So what have these campers and counselors captured?  They have eloquently stated why camp is part of their educational experience.  The have described the soft skills, otherwise known as the 21st century skills that guide every student through every learning event of their lives from the Biology lab, to learning the “J” stroke with a canoe, to playing in the band, to saddling a horse, to team sports in Physical Education, and to engaging in a reflective essay in English, or the genuine appreciation for a sunset.  It is the development of these soft skills…these 21st century skill…that camp does well and where schools struggle…As educators, it is incumbent upon us all to work collaboratively with our local, state, and national school communities and articulate what our important contributions, let them articulate what they provide and intentionally plan for a vision of educational excellence for every child.  We can no longer live in the safe isolation that has defined our relationships for over 150 years.  The camp community and the school community absolutely need one another if they are to continue to be relevant, to continue to prepare young people for active involvement in our democracy, engagement in the environmental crises we are facing, and shared responsibility for all others across the globe.

So much of what we hear about effective education calls for the reform of the system.  However, maybe “reform” isn’t the answer.  Maybe “renewal” captures our charge with more clarity.  It is my supposition that each entity, schools, and camps, do better because of the other, while they can (and often do) exist in isolation their collectives outcomes will dramatically improve the life of each child who benefit from the good work in both environments.

The work in which we engage is best understood by what John Goodlad has called “Simultaneous Renewal”.  It is not in reform that we find answers, but in continual growth.  It’s a “space” where we recognize what is good and we build upon it.  It’s also a “space” where we identify needed change; those elements that are barriers to our growth.  Reform, on the other hand, is a call for throwing out the good work that has been done, and constructing a new “world order”.  But as we look at how we learn, we begin from what we know…doesn’t renewal sounds like a more realistic way to provide ongoing, effective, instruction!  Reform is much about ideas that have no foundation, no place in practice, and are therefore relegated to existence in rhetoric without any manifestation in the reality of the educational environment.

“Renewal” is hopeful and resonates with the power of a joyful educational system that is always in process…always climbing, always meeting children where they are and taking them where they need to be…it speaks to the “camp” experience and its place in the education of every child. It is this commitment to personal growth that we remember in our own camp experience, it’s the memory of last summer’s “renewal” that brings a camper back the next year, and staff back for several seasons!  It is what we do!

Simultaneous Renewal is a realization that innovations, ideas, and creative endeavors are robust when they have a tangible benefit for participant.  In our daily camp activity schedules are we insuring that all participants;  campers, counselors, directors, vendors, parents, staff, etc. are involved in the mission and engaged in making the experience meaningful.   Every participant must be engaged in the mission, and therefore must be actively part of the culture.  All participants must “belong” to the camp environment if they are to create meaning within the day to day operations.  Are cooks invited to campfires? Are mechanics invited to an appreciation breakfast put on by campers? Are mail carriers greeted with “ant cookies” made especially for them? So, I would ask you, how is renewal built into your camp processes, staff training, activity dockets, letters home, etc.?

The synergy created when human beings engage in meaningful experiences together is palpable.  It is why we love camp, it’s why campers return year after year, and it’s how we retain staff beyond one season. This “renewal” happens when meaning is defined around a purpose.  In my camp experience the founders of the camp used a mantra, “fun and adventure, with a purpose”.  In my first staff training experience it became clear what the “purpose” was…as Counselors, we were there to enjoy being in the out of doors with campers, but also to educate them about the natural world in which we explored.  It is here that the mission is found…a focused idea: an idea of purpose, an idea of learning.  It is on the first day of my first staff week where I became an educator.  I can recall an overwhelming sense of responsibility and excitement sweeping over every sense as I wondered how I would answer the charge to be an educator.  Would I be good enough? Would I know enough? Would I be engaging enough? Would I be funny? Would I be liked? What if I didn’t know an answer?

As staff training continued I came to a realization that has stayed with me thirty years later…it’s not about knowing the answers, critical thinking and effective instruction is about asking the questions…and then searching for possible answers together…the discovery…ah, the discovery.  The miracle happens every day, and every cloud becomes a shape to see, every ant hill was a city to be studied, every song was a mirror within which to see ourselves, and every challenge, an opportunity to help others, even while we struggled…and we learned…that the fun was in the journey, and that the journey of learning never ends…and the fun never ends.  And the answer to effective learning and effective education is, as Ellen noted in my session yesterday…the answer is CAMP.

So what are these 21st Century skills that we’ve been discussing, and how exactly do they help us learn, how do they help us all in our own renewal?

Because of camp…

We learned to persevere

We learned to be kind

We learned what was meant, by camp cookies that sang.

We learned how to take the next step, then the next as we climbed

We learned to live in a community

We learned that Facebook was not as much fun as a sunset

We learned that our I-Phone was not as engaging as kickball

We learned to make friends

We learned to overcome homesickness

We learned to lend a helping hand

We learned that a smile we could share was more important that our rotten mood

We learned to challenge ourselves, and our friends

We learned the power and subsequent respect of a thunderstorm

We learned to be a member of a team

and when to lead,

and when to follow

We learned the magic of a group effort

We learned the intimacy of being silent

We learned the humility of being a part of nature

We learned that don’t have to sing well, to sing camp songs

We learned that the showers get hotter when the toilets are flushed

We learned that we really have value

We learned that we really do have worth

And we learned that we really do matter

And we learned that sometimes we need someone else’s help

And we learned that in every interaction, and in every challenge there was

something for us to learn…and we learn…and we learn…and we learn…

… to be continued

Dr. Rodrick S. Lucero is an Associate Professor and Associate Director of the School of Teacher Education and Principal Preparation in the School of Education at Colorado State University and has 10 years’ experience as a camp staff member. He was a well-respected high school teacher and high school administrator for 21 years before moving to his current position. His educational career has been heavily influenced by the relevance inherent in a natural environment and he continually advocates for a myriad of learning environments in order to educate every student effectively. It is at this complex intersection that Rod has fused his passion for nature and his passion for educational opportunities for every child.

Evolving Education: Learning From Our Given Cultures

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

There have been a number of eccentric communities I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing over the past, well, let’s say five years. I’d chock it all up to this sort of collective wanderlust spirit, sort of this fire-burning-inside/on-the-bus off-the-bus/spirituality quest, sort of this kind of journey to find space, to find community, to find work (and play) with intention.

While driving back home to the ranch from Denver a few weekends ago, I happened to pass by a neat looking outdoor education center/camp off the side of the road before I hit greater downtown Deckers. The sign read: Woodbine Ecology Center, and I had to take a peek.

The neat thing about this outdoor education center is that they believe wholeheartedly in being a sustainable community through indigenous Ute practices.

“The point of Woodbine is to provide a base from which indigenous peoples can join with other communities of goodwill to forge a more just and sustainable future for all future generations.”

I mean, you can’t argue with that. I think we do what we do at HTOEC and Sanborn very well. And similarly, I think what Woodbine is doing is incredible work for visitors and students alike. And a lot of that has to do with the rich Colorado history we’re able to pass along.

But one of the main reasons they do what they do is because of (well, here comes that buzz word again) … intention.

“We have indigenous children who are third- or fourth-generation urban dwellers, many of whom have lost any connection with their histories, values and culture, with their songs and ceremonies, and with their elders and the wisdom their ancestors have passed to them about living in their homeland.”

There’s a lot to learn at these sort of places. And I have to say that different paths work for different people.

And each person, thus, is able to thrive in the way in which they can (and want to), whether it be (shameless plugs …) living off the grid in geodesic domes and treehouses (and walking labyrinths for hours), designing biblical gardens as summer camp, teaching low-income families about aquaponics systems in urban areas, or just brewing a good cup of chai mate (and having an awesome folk dance on Shabbat!).

So I think we all have the same goal here. We can all find validity in each of our fields.

And I think that’s especially important. We should never, ever think that what we’re doing–the way in which we teach children, build our homes, feed our communities and share ideas to future generations–is better or worse than the work of our neighbors’.

Different paths work for different people. And we should all be excited to learn with each other.