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

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.

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