Get ‘Em On The Same Page

In 2010, a literary theme was used for staff orientation. The first session opened with a mad-lib activity encouraging counselors to prepare something similar for their cabins as an icebreaker on opening day. Each staff group was given a children’s story to “campify.” To show counselors how significant their influence can be, the directors depicted “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.” After reading the story aloud, the staff created wonderful “campified” versions of “Ira Sleeps Over,” “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie,” “Madeline,” “Corduroy” and other favorites.

Divide And Conquer

One of the most effective strategies is to divide the staff members into two groups based on the age of the campers with whom they will be working in the counseling course. The “Lower Camp” staff members receive training geared towards campers ages 7 to 12. The focus is on how to work through homesickness, health and wellness issues such as bedwetting and ADD and age-appropriate issues like fostering independence. The “Upper Camp” staff members focus on the needs of 13- to 17-year-old campers. Older campers may be more independent, but they need counselors just as much as the younger ones do, but in different ways. Older campers face issues such as eating disorders and sexual identity, and staff members are trained to recognize signs of potentially troubling or risky behavior. Staff members are encouraged to ask tough questions of directors as well as of the nursing staff (another critical role in staff orientation).

Team Cohesion

Evenings are a great time to solidify the bonds among staff members. Early in the week, the focus is on accommodating a large number of participants in such activities as kickball, volleyball or softball. This gives staff members a chance to unwind and get to know each other a little better. As the week progresses, members are given a chance to try alternatives such as tennis, archery and riflery, activities that they might not have the opportunity to try or teach over the summer. If time permits, we have, in the past, also offered an all-staff sail on Cape Cod Bay. This organized recreation is a wonderful way to help staff members become acquainted, and to model what is expected of them when they arrange evening activities for campers.

For The Campers

The most important message conveyed during orientation is that the campers are the reason the staff is in training. Their safety–physical and emotional–must always come first. It is critical to impress upon staff members that they are responsible for other people’s children. The most effective way to do this is to have colleagues whose children attend camp speak to staff members about their role. Some of the themes that have been addressed include:

• How camp provides a wonderful environment for different types of kids (e.g., “the jock” and “the artsy kid”)

• The importance of safety in activity areas, and giving campers undivided attention

• The very positive impact that a great counselor can have on a camper and the potentially negative impact th at a bad counselor can have

• The amazing life-long gifts that camp offers.

In the post-orientation survey, staff members regularly comment on the effectiveness of this portion of the program. Hearing from their co-workers somehow makes it more “real.”

Creating a dedicated, hard-working staff that communicates with one another and understands the demands of its role as well as the expectations of the administration is well worth the effort. It is the key to having a successful summer.

Daniella Garran is the assistant director at Cape Cod Sea Camps in Brewster, Mass. She can be reached via e-mail at

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