Get ‘Em On The Same Page

Cultivating cooperative, caring and compassionate staff members can be a daunting task for even the most seasoned camp director. While candidates may have exemplary backgrounds, solid leadership experience and superior activity-related skills, training them to coalesce and promote the camp’s values can be a challenge.

At Cape Cod Sea Camps, a comprehensive orientation for staff members is held each summer. It is a combination of certification schools in which staff members are trained in CPR and first aid, activity clinics during which staff members become familiar with the equipment they will be using and, most importantly, counseling courses. These sessions are designed to help staff members–whether they are veterans or new to camp–hone their counseling skills, and learn of the directors’ expectations in terms of working with campers.

Bridging The Gap

It is difficult to maintain the attention of returning staff (especially those members who attended camp and think they know virtually all there is to know), and to capture the attention of new staff members who may be overwhelmed by their surroundings and questioning what they’ve gotten themselves into. Meetings with these two groups are held separately on the first day of orientation. To the veterans, the message is to set the proper tone, and to help new members find their way around the grounds as well as to answer their questions. For the new staff, directors help the members feel welcome, and answer questions that include everything from “Where do we eat?” to “When do we get paid?”

Perhaps the greatest challenge of orientation is communicating an extraordinary amount of information to the members in a short amount of time. To some degree, it is possible to speak about situations–like homesickness–theoretically, but it is almost impossible to provide a script that will work with every camper; it is one thing to read about helping homesick campers, but it is an entirely different matter when you’re dealing with an inconsolable 10-year-old at three o’clock in the morning during a thunderstorm.

Engaging Games And Role-Playing

To help deal with different situations, counselors participate in a number of role-playing activities. In 2009, a game and reality-show theme kept staff members engaged, giving them some experience handling difficult situations. A version of The Amazing Race was a wonderful way for veterans to show the new staff around the facility while completing a series of tasks. For example, working in small groups, they had to console homesick campers (aptly portrayed by the drama department head and staff members), effectively greet parents (depicted by other veteran department heads) on opening day, and triage other potential problems, such as a camper’s incorrect cabin placement. Groups could not receive their next clue until the department heads were satisfied with their problem-solving skills. Not only was this an effective way to model what is expected of staff members, but it also served as a great icebreaker. The session concluded by debriefing what worked and what didn’t in each situation; staff members left the session feeling more confident in their abilities. Meanwhile, in a separate mission, Family Feud pitted each group against the other on their knowledge of camp policies, history and daily life. Prizes (e.g., camp water bottles and T-shirts) were awarded to the team with the highest scores.

Literal Translations

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