It's All About The Staff

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Most of us, when we fill a glass of water, fill it about a half-inch short of the brim, especially if we plan to walk anywhere across the room before enjoying a sip. And, likely, you don’t think too much about your hands and arms and legs as you breezily ferry it from the sink to your favorite chair. But if you fill a glass of water to the brim, to the very brink of spilling, you usually concentrate too much on avoiding a spill, on steadying your grasp, on smoothing your gait. Almost inevitably, from those unfamiliar and over-steady motions, the glass trembles and you lose a few drops.

But walking with a full glass is easy as long as you treat it like any other glass of water, full or empty, and let your intuitive muscles take care of it as they always do. At camp, however, there is too much at stake to rely on intuition.

And so we train. First Aid, technical skills, mediation skills, games, role playing, safety drills; because what if something happens and you don’t know what to do? What if a camper scrapes a knee? What if a camper is bored? We have to know the answers to those questions, so we take every measure we can. We invite guests like Dr. Chris Thurber, an expert in the summer camp world who, in addition to serving on the faculty of Phillips Exeter Academy and creating Expert Online Training, has made the study of homesickness his life’s work. We invite parents to form a panel upon which we sound our questions and seek advice. And we have, of course, our in-house experts who comprise our leadership team, who hold seminars, sharing anecdotes and lessons from past summers that we use to form new avenues of improvement.

And this is the least that some of us devote to readiness; many have started their training three weeks ago. Our adventure staff have been tracing trails by foot and by bike, climbing the faces of mountains, and coursing their way down rivers, all of it again and again, to find the different degrees of challenge in any given route for when the campers are alongside them. Their medical training has been expanded to a 10-day Wilderness First Responder course. The lifeguards have been wet more often than dry, as they practice for the unexpected. Any issue of “what if?” is met with rigor and repetition.

We practice; we play; we listen; we learn; we think; and if we find ourselves wondering why we go through so much, all we need to do is look around and see what Falling Creek has become, that it is full to the brim, that it is precious. Not because of its reputation or its location, but because of the campers that come here; your children.

So if we are going to improve ourselves beyond our practical training, we need to examine our hold on what we think we know about this place. To that extent, every facet of camp, every corner of plan and program, is now suffused with a single interrogative: the question of why.

Why do we have Evening Embers? Why do we not clap at Campfire? Why do we eat family style? Why do we have nametags? Why do we go on cabin overnights? Why do we take attendance at activities? And why do we scaffold progressions for those activities around skill instead of age? The infinitum of questions and answers can seem daunting, but asking them is perhaps the best way to ruffle any laurels we might hold and take a step toward ascertaining what we hope to accomplish on this mountain, a step toward parsing the magic and mechanics behind what makes camp great.

Dr. Thurber shared with us that when people (campers; counselors; anyone) are placed into a new environment where absolutely everything is upended—the culture, the status, the attention, the food, the routine, the smells—homesickness can take hold. And he charged us with a question: how will this place earn a spot on each camper’s inner mantle, that hearth of heart reserved for places known heretofore only as home? It won’t happen by itself, to be sure. But it feels good to know that we will be ready to show them.

For more camp news and photos, check out Yates’ blogs on his Facebook page.