ACA Camp Blog

September 16, 2014

As someone who lived on the frontlines of camp for 15 years, I have had the last year to look back and carefully reflect on what keeps me in the camp profession (working for ACA) and what moves me about the camp experience.

Camp Moves Me - Join the MovementI am moved by camp parents who put their trust in us as camp professionals. They “loan” us that which they value most in the world, and they stand with us as partners as we challenge their children to grow in ways they never have before. As a dad myself, the camp parent moves me.

I am moved by the camp alum who recalls her time at camp with a smile, admiration, and the knowledge that this experience made her who she is today. I am moved by her constant and undeterred support of the camp she once called home, and by the dreams she has of her child having the same opportunity to attend “her” camp. 

I am moved by camp staff who work long hours for little pay all for a cause that is worthy, true, and right. What other job could they have where their sole duties are so vital to the education of children and the stakes so high — and they are able to accomplish it all in costume? The results produced by staff in a short amount of time speak to the power of the educational experience they are providing and this, too, moves me.

I am moved by campers who wake up each day with a sense of adventure, a can-do attitude, and with an eye on a wish for the future. The campers I have interacted with convinced me to be forever young and to see the magic happening all around us. They reminded me that we can all achieve dreams. They encouraged me to recognize the super-heroes among us, to search for the moments of mystery that strike us with awe, and to always have a good riddle or skit ready for a dull moment. These kids became my role models and teachers for how to approach life; their classroom was camp, and they move me.

Finally, I am moved by those who have decided to join this cause that is Camp Moves Me (and I hope you consider joining too!). Like many new things we do at camp, success is predicated on the enthusiasm and involvement of a few folks who are willing to jump in and get involved. Our success is well within reach, and each of you — our athletes, our sponsors, and our donors — move me.

And so it is with all these folks in mind that I will be moving in October to help more kids who wish to have their own great experience — or discover what moves them — go to camp.

What moves you?

Feel free to post what moves you in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter with the hashtag: #campmovesme

Tom Holland,
Chief Foundation and Funds Development Officer

September 9, 2014

At ACA, we have spent the last year honing the time-tested, traditional practices of fundraising. In doing so, we have sought to increase the clarity of where each gift will provide support; we have worked to acknowledge our donors appropriately, and we have increasingly shared the impact of the gifts we are given. As we honed these skills, we have sought to develop our culture of philanthropy at ACA to further connect people with our great association. 

But as we worked on these skills, who knew that a bucket of ice and a challenge issued by friends would change the face of philanthropy throughout the country?

Unless you have been asleep the past month, you know I am referring to the ALS Association’s Ice Bucket Challenge. With the enthusiasm, support and publicity that this fundraiser received, it seems like philanthropy will never be the same for nonprofits around the country.  The change comes as it appears there are new "rules" out there that demand our attention as an association.

The new rules of philanthropy:

  • Creativity is king
  • Fun is critical
  • Social media powers all
  • The power of peer-to-peer appeals is as strong as ever

This is not to say that the old practices of philanthropy are gone; rather, there is new opportunity for organizations like ACA to capitalize on the current trends. And the timing is perfect as we get to try and abide by the new rules of philanthropy with our own effort: Camp Moves Me.

Tom Holland, Our Own Effort: Camp Moves Me

Next month, we are launching Camp Moves Me to raise funds to send children to camp. The philanthropic effort will be done in a creative way, getting people out and active for camps. With great sponsors on board, fun awards to be won and a worthy cause to support, we hope we have most of the ingredients for positive impact.

However, one final piece is needed to help us be the change we want to see in this world: YOU! Good philanthropy can be accomplished by one; great philanthropy is a crusade by many, and this will not be successful without your collective support and enthusiasm.

It is in the spirit of great philanthropy that I ask for your support today. Join me, and others who love summer camp, by pledging to participate in Camp Moves Me. You can do this by going to and signing up. In signing up, you will be showing your support of camp, and by participating you will be getting “actively” involved in the important goal to send more children to camp.

Then, in the spirit of great philanthropy, I ask that you ask three to five others to participate. This is not just about donating (although that is great!); by participating in this event as an athlete we all show our commitment to camp.

Camp certainly has moved me and I plan to participate, how much does it move you?

Join the movement!

Tom Holland,
Chief Foundation and Funds Development Officer

July 2, 2014

The American Camp Association (ACA) has a long history of advocating for the health of children, including fighting obesity through healthy eating.  We provide resources to camps to help them develop programs offering appropriate foods and beverages to kids.

ACA supports the Healthy Eating and Physical Activity Standards for Early Childhood and Afterschool Programs  (HEPA) — which specifically include standards for healthy beverages. Additionally, ACA is a member of the Healthy Out-of-School Time Coalition (HOST) and also works with other organizations to promote the health of children.

“ACA seeks to educate camps and parents about healthy beverages and foods in the camp environment. We believe that changes in behavior are best facilitated through educational partnerships with camps, organizations, parents and kids,” said Peg Smith, CEO of the American Camp Association. 

ACA will continue to work with parents and organizations to find ways to help children and youth practice healthy life habits.

For more information and resources visit

Photo courtesy of Cheley Colorado Camps, Estes Park, CO.

June 16, 2014

Post by Peg Smith

Daniel Goleman, the psychologist who originated the concept of emotional intelligence, states: “High levels of cognitive ability (measured IQ of 120 or greater) are a threshold qualification for leadership roles. Once you are at or above that level, IQ loses power as a predictor of success. EQ then plays a larger role.”

So, how does the camp experience play a role in one’s success? In the book True North, Bill George and Peter Simms write that EQ starts with self-awareness of your life story and the crucibles you have experienced.

At camp, one has the opportunity to participate in three requirements for self-awareness.

  1. One has the opportunity to experience real life/world experiences, including leadership. You are unplugged.
  2. One has the opportunity to reflect about those experiences and consider ways to improve. You are present.
  3. One has the opportunity for group interactions that enhances your chances to share and receive feedback. You are a part of a team.

Although these requirements are not rocket science, often, without intentionality, they are lost in the blur of activity. Don’t miss opportunities to help others learn to be successful.

May 23, 2014

CEO Peg Smith encourages counselors to remember the powerful influence they will have on campers this summer, reminding them to communicate in a way that is "True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary, and Kind." Read her Camping Magazine column on this topic.


May 19, 2014

Guest post by Matt Smith

Less than 40% of 12th graders are prepared for college-level math and reading. Plus: Evaluating the charter school movement 20 years in, a debate over how to evaluate public school teachers, coding is headed for the K-12 mainstream, and the commencement speaker protests raise some interesting questions.

The Education Week in Review is a weekly recap of the national debate for busy parents and professionals. This week, five summaries of 100 words. Got feedback? We want it.

Featured photo credit: “Barack Obama” by Joe Crimmings licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

National Assessment of Educational Progress

10 Words: Stagnant scores for 12th graders fuel concerns over American competitiveness.

100 Words: Every four years the U.S. Department of Education administers standardized tests to three grades: 4th, 8th, and 12th. These are the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). NAEP has released its results from 2013, the most recent year of tests. Despite modest gains in the lower grades, the 12th grade results have remained stagnant for decades. Less than 40% of 12th graders are prepared for college-level math and reading. There are massive achievement gaps between whites and minorities (up to 30 points and growing). Even high-achieving students made no progress, fueling concern about the future of American competitiveness. The links:

Our favorite → Thomas B. Fordham Institute — The mystery that is twelfth-grade NAEP
MSNBC — Education racial gap wide as ever according to NAEP
EdWeek — Fewer Than 40 Percent of Seniors Are Prepared for College, NAEP Analysis Finds
Education Next — U.S. Students from Educated Families Lag in International Tests
Education by the Numbers — High school wasteland: Demographic changes do not explain test-score stagnation among U.S. high school seniors

Charter Schools

10 Words: Charter school movement not living up to its billing.

100 Words: The charter school movement began 20 years ago. Today two million students attend charters, representing 5-6% of U.S. school children. A new report summarizes the state of affairs with refreshing clearheadedness, given how heated this argument can be. (Remember, charters were designed to stimulate education innovation for the benefit of all school children.) The report has three major takeaways: 1) although some charters enjoy outstanding success, 2) public schools are not benefiting from their success, and 3) the crime perpetrated by some charter administrators is completely out of control. The report puts forth a series of insightful reforms. The links:

Our favorite → Salon — Charter schools are cheating your kids: New report reveals massive fraud, mismanagement, abuse
NYT — Charters, Public Schools and a Chasm Between
Education Next — Despite Success in New York City, It’s Time for Charters to Guard Their Flanks
Integrity in Education — Report: Charter School Vulnerabilities to Waste, Fraud & Abuse

Photo credit: “03312014 – Concept Charter Schools Student Art Exhibit opening” by US Department of Education licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Teacher Evaluation

10 words: More ammunition for those opposed to factoring in test scores.

100 words: The Obama administration pressured states to develop systems for evaluating their public school teachers. In response, most states factored in student test score gains (year-over-year improvements). However, opposition to the formula is growing and this week the opposition gained some ammunition. A new report (Brookings) and a new study (AERA) were released. Both criticize the use of including test scores. The Obama administration showed some give, an acknowledgment that these formulas are hard to get right. Interesting to note, the Brookings report was funded by the Gates Foundation, an influential proponent of including test score gains. The links:

Our favorite →  Education by the Numbers — Researchers give failing marks to national effort to measure good teaching
WaPo — Good teaching, poor test scores: Doubt cast on grading teachers by student performance
WaPo — The irony in new study that bashes popular teacher evaluation method
EdWeek — Ed. Dept. to Extend NCLB Waivers Without Considering Teacher Evaluation
EdWeek — Research Detects Bias in Classroom Observations
Brookings — Evaluating Teachers with Classroom Observations: Lessons Learned in Four Districts
Education Dive — Report: Bias found in teacher evals
American Educational Research Association (AERA) — Study: State Value-Added Performance Measures Do Not Reflect the Content or Quality of Teachers’ Instruction

Photo credit: “Teacher In Classroom” by licensed under CC BY 2.0.


10 Words: Coding may be headed for the K-12 mainstream.

100 Words: Coding is the process of writing a computer program. Over the past 20 years, the tech industry has grown, but schools have not adapted, meaning we don’t have enough coders in the workforce. Now an effort is under way to interest school children in coding. One strategy is to lobby schools to add computer science classes. Another strategy is to develop apps for families to buy, like video games. This week, in a possible harbinger, a startup company with an app for the iPad that teaches kids to code raised $1.2 million in seed funding. The links:

Our favorite → — California CEOs, educators and community leaders call on Governor Jerry Brown to expand computer science
NYT — Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, and Lately, Coding
TechCrunch — Hopscotch, An iPad App That Helps Kids Learn To Code, Raises $1.2M

Photo credit: “Code” by Michael Himbeault licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Commencement Speaker Protests

10 Words: The commencement speaker protests raise some interesting questions.

100 Words: A small number of college commencement speakers have withdrawn, most notably Condoleezza Rice and Christine Lagarde, after student protests. These protests raise some interesting questions. One, is protesting a commencement speaker “healthy debate or an intolerance of it?” (NPR) Two, how angry do students have to be to sign an online petition? Three, will these students continue their armchair or hashtag activism after they graduate? The links:

Our favorite →  Slate — Elite College Students Protest Their Elite Commencement Speakers
NPR — What Drives Protests On Campus?
Time — The Problem With Graduation Speaker Purity Tests
WaPo — One of the most powerful women in the world won’t speak at Smith College after protests

Photo credit: “Secretary Condoleezza Rice India visit, December 3, 2008” by U.S. Embassy New Delhi licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

On Twitter? Us too!

Matthew Smith is a director at Longacre, a summer camp. Longacre uses the summer to prepare ambitious teenagers for long term success. Follow Matt on Twitter.

May 5, 2014

Guest post by Matt Smith

The House considers a charter school funding bill, and the U.S. graduation rate reaches a milestone. Plus, opposition to Common Core intensifies, and should student test scores be included in the evaluation of teachers?

The Education Week in Review is a weekly recap of the national debate. This week, four 100-word summaries on charter schools, common core, the graduation rate, and teacher evaluation.

Got feedback? We want it.

Charter Schools









U.S. House of Representatives.

In 5 Words: House considers school funding bill.

In 100 Words: The U.S. House considers a school funding bill that would make it easier to open charter schools. Supporters on both sides of the aisle are fed up with public school reform. Detractors, mostly on the left, say public schools will lose high-functioning students to charters, leaving the system in worse shape. And they hurl two charges at supporters’ true motivations: to privatize education for profit and to weaken teachers unions. The New York Times hints at these charges in an inflammatory article about the Walton Family Foundation. Defenders attack the author for her insinuations and left-leaning bias. The links:

  • Our favorite → NYT — A Walmart Fortune, Spreading Charter Schools
  • WSJ — Congress Is Going Back to School
  • NYMag — What’s Behind That Insanely Hostile New York Times Story on Charter Schools?
  • EduShyster — The Great Big Lovin’ Walheart
  • The New York Sun — Waltons Derided by N.Y. Times As Its Own School Charity Fails
  • Washington Examiner — Demonizing Walmart’s founding family over their support for educating the poor

Photo credit: “House of Representatives Building and the East Portico of the U.S. Capitol — Washington (DC) January 2013” by Ron Cogswell licensed under CC Attribution 2.0.

Common Core














President Obama.

In 5 Words: Obama may have a problem.

In 100 Words: The contentiousness around Common Core continues to increase. We count five groups railing against it: libertarians opposed to centralized control; teachers angry at not being included in development and implementation; anti-Obama Republicans; activists against testing; and activists against corporate influence. Supporters of Common Core are probably larger in number — the accountability hawks, the charter advocates, the learning companies, forty-four states, and a majority of teachers (NYT) — but opponents are louder. Watch out for a second state, like Oklahoma, to step back from CCSS in response to public pressure. The links:

  • Our favorite → Taking Note — The Common Core Brouhaha
  • NYT — When the Circus Descends
  • CNN — Common Core Promotes StudentS
  • TPM — The Vast Network of Common Core Conspiracy Theories
  • Salon — “The Common Core May Actually Fail”: Union Chief Sounds Off on Christie, Rhee, and For-Profit Testing “Gag Order”
  • WaPo — The Scary Way Common Core Test “Cut Scores” Are Selected
  • Chalkbeat Indiana — Indiana Has New Academic Standards
  • Thomas B. Fordham Institute — Common Core: The Day After

Photo credit: “Obama” by Anna licensed under Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic.

High School Graduation










High school graduation.

In 5 Words: U.S. graduation rate reaches milestone.

In 100 Words: The graduation rate for U.S. high schools has reached 80 percent, an all-time high. Many efforts contributed to the achievement: increased awareness of the dropout problem; the closing of schools dubbed “dropout factories”; the inclusion of dropout rates in assessing schools; and stronger adult relationships for at-risk students. The data do highlight some ugly achievement gaps across racial groups, socioeconomic groups, and states. However, by closing these gaps, authors of the report claim the U.S. can attain a 90 percent graduation rate by 2020. Its recommendations? Focus on California, special needs, racial gaps, income gaps, and big cities. The links:

  • Our favorite → Vox — The High School Graduation Rate Is at an All-Time High — But There Are Still Big Gaps
  • Politico — High School Graduation Rate Could Hit 90 Percent
  • GradNation — Building A GradNation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic (2014)
  • Houston Chronicle — Report: 4 in 5 U.S. High School Students Graduate

Photo credit: “window pics 1” by U.S. Department of Education licensed under CC Attribution 2.0.

Teacher Evaluation













Classroom teacher.

In 5 Words: Should student testing be included?

In 100 Words: Education reform advocates call for more stringent evaluation of teachers. The rationale makes sense: Great schools need great teachers. So Common Core increases the weight of student test scores in teacher evaluation. Detractors find the heavy weight problematic. They say, test scores do not accurately reflect teacher performance. Plus, high-stakes testing creates perverse incentives, and perverse incentives erode two elements of high-functioning schools: strong supports and internal accountability (Hechinger Report). Regardless, Obama is standing pat: Last week, Washington state voted down the inclusion of test scores in teacher evaluation and the president pulled $40 million in federal funding. The links:

  • Our favorite → Hechinger Report — Why Getting Teacher Accountability Right Is Essential to Common Core’s Success
  • NPR — Wash. Loses “No Child Left Behind” Waiver over Teacher Evaluations
  • EdWeek — Do Standardized Tests Measure What We Value?
  • ABC News — Washington Loses Waiver on No Child Left Behind
  • Jay P. Greene’s Blog — Teacher Evaluation: Lake Woebegon Hasn’t Been Fixed By Central Planners
  • This Week in Education — Bruno: What If Teacher Evaluation Isn’t Actually Broken After All?

Photo credit: “Olympic Week-Teacher for a Day” by Chicago 2016 licensed under CC Attribution 2.0.

There you have it, this week’s recap of the national debate. Got feedback? We want it.

Matthew Smith is a director at Longacre, a summer camp. Longacre uses the summer to prepare ambitious teenagers for long term success. Follow Matt on Twitter.


April 21, 2014

Guest post by Matt Smith

The Achievement Gap

Camp  Howe

The Education Week in Review recaps the national education conversation from the past week. This week we begin with the achievement gap.

The achievement gap is easy to define, but its causes are complex and solutions have proven elusive. The news below indicates the beginning of collective action.

Easy to Define. The achievement gap is easy to define: similar groups of students showing dissimilar levels of academic achievement.

The Data. It’s more accurate to call them achievement “gaps” because the data reveal numerous gaps, not just one between ethnic groups.

The data show that there is, in fact, a gap in achievement between whites and minorities. For example, take the percentage of 4th graders reading below grade level: white students, 58%, Hispanic students, 82%, black students, 86%. We clearly see an achievement gap there: similar groups showing dissimilar levels of achievement.

Another example: low-income students score 100 points lower on the SATs than their higher-income counterparts.

A Troubling Indicator. A prominent foundation, one that recognizes high-performing urban schools with its annual Broad (rhymes with road) Prize for Urban Education, announced 2 finalists this year, not its usual 4–5. The foundation found only two schools in the country worthy of recognition  —  a troubling indicator.

Calls for Action. Former President Bush (44) called the achievement gap “a national scandal.” Rev. Al Sharpton called it the “civil rights issue of our day.”

Part of the problem with the achievement gap: even though it’s easy to define, its causes are complex. In contrast to much of the American public, school officials comprehend the complexity and are asking for help, claiming they cannot solve the problem on their own.

New Research on Causes. Science supports their claims. Researchers at Penn, studying Philadelphia 3rd graders, found three trends among low-achieving schools: homelessness, child abuse, and mothers who did not finish high school.

If the Penn research is solid, those who lay the responsibility at the feet of teachers and administrators seem badly misinformed.

What do African-Americans think the causes are? In a Kellogg Foundation-Ebony magazine survey, respondents reported “lack of parental involvement” as the number one cause.

Obama’s Action. President Obama apparently concurs with “lack of parental involvement” as a cause because last month he announced “My Brother’s Keeper,” an effort to connect boys and men of color to mentors and support networks ($200 million over five years).

Already Obama has created WHIEEAA, the White House Initiative on Education Excellence for African Americans, to uncover effective methods for closing the achievement gap, and to develop “a national network” for sharing best practices. WHIEEAA is on a six-month summit tour to raise awareness, this month stopping at Jackson State University.

The President Is Not Alone. Obama is not alone in taking action to close the achievement gap. Other organizations are on board.

Foundations are stepping up: ten of them are partnering with the president on “My Brother’s Keeper.”

The Erikson Institute, a leading child development graduate school in Chicago, created the Task Force on Reducing the Achievement Gap. Erikson will use the findings to advise the state of Illinois.

And the Los Angeles public school system has made an $837 million commitment  —  representing 12% of its budget  —  to address the needs of students who are low-income, English-language learners, and in foster care.

Photo courtesy of Camp Howe, Goshen, Massachusetts

Standardized Testing and Alternative Assessments

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio

Last week New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio “reduced the role of standardized exams” in evaluating students, a marked departure from his data-loving predecessor. This is a sign of the times.

Resistance to standardized testing has exploded recently, an indication that the “testing pendulum” is set to swing back to the left (if you think No Child Left Behind was the pendulum swinging to the right).

Shifting Gears. Education reform advocates, possibly caught off-guard by how quickly the movement has gained traction, shifted gears this week to a discussion of reform possibilities.

Alternative Assessments. A teacher in California co-designs teaching rubrics with her students. She also incorporates peer assessments into her classroom.

Idaho’s Task Force for Improving Education discusses mastery-based education, where students advance only after achieving full mastery of a subject  —  interesting, although it leaves me with questions.

The Hewlett Foundation calls for more attention to deeper learning, where students take what they’ve learned (e.g., physics) and then apply it to group projects (e.g., balsa wood bridges). These group projects reinforce academics but also develop skills like critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration.

Outcomes Instead of Test Scores. For evaluating districts, one writer sees an “emerging consensus” on using outcomes instead of test scores. Examples of outcomes are high school graduation rates, college matriculation rates, and college graduation rates. Tracking outcomes may be more difficult than grading tests but may also prove more valuable.

Photo credit: “Bill de Blasio” by Kevin Case licensed under CC Attribution 2.0.

SAT’s Major Redirection

In March, the College Board announced upcoming revisions to its flagship product, the SAT.

Recently the College Board released details and sample questions.

Not Just about Vocab. The New York Times latched on to the elimination of obscure vocabulary words. The College Board is shifting away from memorization, but these revisions are not just about vocab.

Instead the revisions are being billed as a “major redirection.” For example, the new SAT will require students to demonstrate extended problem-solving skills and to explain reasoning behind answers.

Aligning with CCSS. Interestingly, the CEO of the College Board, David Coleman, was a key architect of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). This suggests that the College Board will further align SAT with the new federal standards.

Two Impacts. The College Board says its changes will have two impacts. First it will improve predictability. Fundamentally, the SAT was designed to match students with appropriate institutions. The SAT is supposed to inform families, high schools, and college admission officers so they all can make better matches.

The second impact is on pinpointing where students are falling behind. When I read “pinpointing,” I interpreted it as a reference to district achievement (as opposed to student achievement) and benchmarking district achievement across the state or country. If true, it’s possible this is a strategic move against testing companies like Harcourt and Pearson, which administer and score state standardized tests.

Two Critics. The SAT has big critics, of course. Two of them hit hard this week. First was John Katzman, founder of the Princeton Review, the test prep company. He calls the SAT a “scam” (that surprised me) explaining how he and his partner “cracked the test” in the 1980s. Decrying compensation and profits at the College Board and ACT Inc. (parent company of the ACT), two 501(c)(3) organizations, Katzman calls for the creation of “a new organization to oversee college admissions testing.” We’ll see where that goes.

The second heavy hitter of the week was Leon Botstein, president of Bard College. In a piece provocatively titled, “Part Hoax, Part Fraud,” Botstein insists that the College Board is just reacting to SAT’s loss of market share to ACT, its rival.

Many articles stated that the SAT is losing market share to the ACT but I could not find recent data to back up the claims.

More Like ACT. Botstein’s claim cannot be dismissed out of hand. SAT’s new format does look more like ACT in three ways: 45 minutes shorter, no penalty for wrong answers, and essay optional.

Vociferous Defense. The best article of the week was on Salon: a defense of the SAT (4,000 likes, 700 comments, 500 tweets). Two college professors, apparently without conflicts of interest, mounted a vociferous argument in a heavily-linked article. They champion the testing of general intelligence (IQ). They insist that SAT levels the playing field, especially for high-achieving students who are disadvantaged. You will probably find this article helpful regardless of your leaning.

A Stanford student calls the revisions an “excellent first step” and recounts her history with the SAT.

The admissions director at Duke is taking a wait-and-see approach. Interestingly, college admissions officers were not often quoted in the articles we found.

The SAT Quiz. Finally, if you’re interested in finding out how you would do on the new test, the Washington Post has sample questions in a quiz.

Photo credit: “Sharpened Pencil” by Infratec licensed under Wikipedia Commons public domain

There you have it: a recap of the national conversation from last week.

Matthew Smith is a director at Longacre, a summer camp. Longacre uses the summer to prepare ambitious teenagers for long term success. Join Matt on Google+ for education conversation. 

April 7, 2014

ACA CEO Peg Smith shares her personal experiences and favorite memories of camp. Learn why Smith calls camp "the best gift you can give a young person."


March 21, 2014

Guest post by Posie Taylor

With all of the ACA spring conferences and trainings coming up, I’ve been thinking about the importance in participating in and leading educational opportunities through ACA. Even after many years in camp, I always get a little nugget or two out of participating in ACA educational events. But that is not the main reason I have participated and led, both on the regional and on the national level, for over thirty-five years.  When I was just starting out as a young camp director at Aloha, I met a very wise man at ACA. He shared his perspective that being involved at ACA was a matter of helping to assure the future of the camps I loved and that had given me so much as a child and young adult.

Here is what he said:

  1. Not every alumni camper is going to send his or her child to our camp. Economics may constrain their choices or distance or family issues or a multitude of specific challenges unique to each situation.
  2. For that reason, our future depends on attracting folks who DIDN’T have the opportunity to attend our camp as children.
  3. If we want those folks to consider our camp for their kids, the camp experience they had as children — at whatever camp they attended — must be of very high quality.
  4. If those experiences are not high quality, we will NEVER get those parents to consider ANY camp for their kids. They will have a hard time distinguishing between our camps and the ones they attended where they felt scared or unseen or shipped away from home. They will want their kids to have better summers than they had — and those summers will probably NOT involve a dreaded camp experience of any sort!  At the very least, it will be a really tough sell!
  5. Our future at each one of our own beloved summer homes depends on camps across the country getting better and better!Posie as a young director
  6. Our job is to be teaching, modeling, sharing what we know to help raise all boats across the industry, and, by doing so, to secure the future of the camps we love.
  7. Why do you think I have been participating, volunteering and sharing for so long? Of course I learn stuff, but mostly I know that we — not matter what camp we represent — must, for our own survival, if nothing else, participate in making all camps better!

Shortly after hearing this wise man speak, I stepped up, producing and running a fall leadership conference for ACA, New England entitled “Camp as a Microcosm, Camp as a Haven, Camp as a Vanguard” — a concept gleaned from another wise ACA leader! The rest is history, and I know that, in my small way, I have raised all boats at least a tiny bit across camping. I urge you to do the same! Set about making the camp experience and ACA better for the future of our camps and for the love of children across the country!

Starting as a homesick camper in 1954, Posie Taylor grew up at The Aloha Camps. After almost twenty years as director of Aloha’s camp for younger girls, she became executive director of The Aloha Foundation in 1998. In “retirement,” Posie serves on the ACA National Board of Directors and on the board of ACA, New England, while consulting with nonprofits across the country. Her favorite role is being Grammie to her beloved granddaughter, Kate.

March 11, 2014

Guest post by Lance Ozier

A few years back I conducted a study with kids who had gone to summer camp for at least six or seven years. I asked them to talk about their camp experiences, and from their stories identified convincing evidence that summer camp is an important place for kids to learn and grow. Recently, the skills campers in my study attributed to their camp experiences — confidence, leadership, social skills, independence, self-direction — have been described in books and articles as important noncognitive factors essential for success  in the “new economy.” If camp’s purpose is to give kids a world of good, then camp seems a likely place for young people and adults to acquire and practice these important skills so they can imagine ways they might adapt to the challenges in an ever-changing world.

William Poundstone’s “Are you smart enough to work at Google?” describes the “new economy” in the context of the Google corporation’s decision to shift hiring techniques from screening job candidates “beyond learning particular sets of skills, toward measuring the ability to innovate and problem solve.” He provides several intriguing examples illustrating how the new Google interview questions emphasize intelligence as more than what is learned in school and rather the “ability to reason well and grasp the subtleties of the world around us.”

Industry and economics have historically driven the educational reforms necessary to prepare kids for the workforce. Schools often lag behind, and while gaining this type of insight would enable educators to teach students how to learn, as well as what to learn, enabling students to take more ownership and control over their own learning, camps, on the other hand, have long been leaders in giving semantic parity between cognitive knowledge and youth development skills essential for learning.

Paul Tough’s (2012) How Children Succeed calls attention to this tension between “what you know” and “ how you use what you know” by questioning “the cognitive hypothesis,” or the belief “that success today depends primarily on cognitive skills — the kind of intelligence that gets measured on I.Q. tests, including the abilities to recognize letters and words, to calculate, to detect patterns — and that the best way to develop these skills is to practice them as much as possible, beginning as early as possible.” In his latest book, Tough sets out to replace this assumption by emphasizing the notion that noncognitive skills are more crucial than sheer brain power to achieving success, including:

  • persistence
  • self-control
  • curiosity
  • conscientiousness
  • self-confidence

Camp professionals are likely familiar with the benefits included in Tough’s list of factors. In fact, ACA has conducted important studies with conclusions aligning closely with this list of noncognitive factors — 3,395 families whose child attended one of eighty different day or resident summer camps measured growth from precamp to postcamp surveys in four domains:

  • positive identity
  • social skills
  • physical and thinking skills
  • and positive values

Sound familiar? To anyone living in the world of summer camp, the skills necessary in the new economy sound a lot like old habit. For over 150 years, camps have provided landscapes of learning for generations of campers the old-fashioned way by giving kids the space to practice what they learn in school and opportunities to explore ways of making sense of what they know in new and different settings outside the classroom.

In fact, despite classrooms having the connotation in society for being exclusive places for learning, schools often don’t do enough to prepare young people for the new economy’s demands. In his newest publication, educator David Conley at the Educational Policy Improvement Center suggests, “most students don’t get enough opportunities to practice an array of learning strategies as they go through school.” One reason, as Conley suggests, is that “developing strategic learning techniques takes time and practice.” On the other hand, camp preserves for kids the chance to slow down, to notice, to attend, to engage and interact with their world. A camp curriculum, unlike most school curricula, awakens kids with challenging activities that encourage innovation and exploration, the same kind of innovation that creates jobs, and the kind of exploration through which discoveries are made.

In a recent opinion published in the widely read Education Week, Conley (2013) calls for the unfortunately named noncognitive factors to be renamed. Claiming the name suggests “not-thinking,” he suggests the term “metacognitive factors,” as he rhetorically asks “are we not observing a higher form of thinking when we see students persist with difficult tasks, such as overcoming frustration; setting and achieving goals; seeking help; working with others; and developing, managing, and perceiving their sense of self-efficacy?”

In my own study, the stories told to me by kids who attended summer camp described examples of Conley’s argument, including metacognitive processes like:

  • “exposed me to new ideas”
  • “inspiration to move on”
  • “learning new things”
  • “being okay with myself”
  • “practicing role modeling”
  • “learning how to talk to others”
  • “becoming oneself”
  • “avoiding peer pressure”

Even as research tells us camp helps kids learn in ways that will improve their school performance, why do we still have such a hard time convincing folks that camps are perhaps better suited to provide kids with the kinds of experiences learners need, and that camp is more likely to grow citizens with the twenty-first century learning characteristics our world demands? In the face of shifting economic and educational landscapes, how do summer camps keep open to the need for developing meta/noncognitive factors even as we have regard for tradition? How might the next 150 years of camp continue to prepare kids for the world’s demands?

Just this last year, ACA convened a task force to examine the link between the research on meta/noncognitive factors and the ways camps develop these skills each summer in millions of young people and adults. And each of us must do our part — it’s important to help educate campers and parents about the important learning benefits of the camp experience. By simply getting better at what they already do, camps are well positioned to be an important element on the educational spectrum necessary to succeed in this century and beyond — or as Dr. Edmund Gordon of Yale and Columbia Universities calls the “supplementary education” necessary for high academic achievement in school and life in this new economy.

If we expect the next generation of young people to create a world in which they identify the deficiencies and try and repair them, then summer camps must be recognized broadly as one of the last places for developing the creativity and the curiosity necessary for children to, as Maxine Greene reminds us, “imagine how things should be and how they might be.”

Share this posting and others like it so that American summer camps are seen as credible experts in the work of equipping kids with life skills the old fashioned way, by providing engaging experiences so that young people grow to learn for themselves; camps open young minds to possibilities they may not have seen before; camp is where imagination flourishes — where kids can explore concepts and turn ideas on their head, creating openings into changing how they see the world and how the world can interact with us. As cognitive science, industry, and education reform all hustle to keep up with the times, the future for ACA is now — or as the French like to say, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Lance Ozier, PhD, spent fifteen seasons at Morry’s Camp, the summer component of the nationally recognized youth development organization Project Morry. Lance has also worked in public schools at the elementary, middle, and secondary levels and has taught at Teachers College, Columbia University, and The City College of New York. Since 2010, he has served as a volunteer on ACA’s national Committee for the Advancement of Research and Evaluation (CARE).

January 28, 2014

For today's kids, free, unstructured play is on the decline, and access to the outdoors is dwindling. ACA CEO Peg Smith explains why play is so critical to a child's success. Read Peg's article in USA Today.

January 24, 2014

There is no single, all-encompassing background check database available in this country.The purpose of the Child Protection Improvments Act (CPIA) is to "close a gaping hole in the federal law that prevents camps, children's groups, and other organizations that work with children from gaining access to federal criminal background checks on employees and volunteers."

View this video blog from ACA CEO Peg Smith encouraging advocacy for the CPIA and advocate at ACA's CPIA page today.

January 21, 2014

This guest post is by Audrey Monke, owner and director of Gold Arrow Camp.

I love flipping my calendar to January and the promise it offers of a fresh start. There’s something about the clean pages of a whole year stretched out in front of me that makes me believe I can accomplish more this year than I ever have before.

One thing I’ve learned is that just flipping to the fresh page doesn’t actually make anything different. I have to put some effort in. After being a camp director for more than twenty-five years, I’m still trying to get better at my job. I’d like to share three ways I’m going to be a better camp director in 2014, and I hope you get some ideas you can use, as well.

1. Look Back

As you look back on 2013, ask yourself two questions:

  • What were my strengths as a camp director?
  • What were my biggest failures and what did I learn?

Are you not sure what your greatest strengths and failures were? Then take a morning to read through evaluations and feedback you received from campers, parents, and staff. See what the trends are. Jot down some lists of the good stuff and the not-so-good stuff from camp last summer. Then you’ll know your strengths and areas for improvement!

2. Use Today Well

Now that you’ve reflected on the past, don’t get overwhelmed by a humungous list of way too many to-dos. Instead, ask yourself:

  • What is ONE thing I can do today to make camp better this summer?

Like me, you have a lot of e-mails and phone calls and miscellaneous, seemingly urgent items to do today. All that sometimes not-so-important stuff jumps out at you calling you away from actually getting anything done. How many days have you reflected and said, “What did I do today?” and you can’t come up with anything tangible?

So just think of ONE thing you can do today that is important but not urgent. Maybe you can spend thirty minutes researching ideas to make your staff training really have a WOW factor this year. Or maybe there’s a key staff member you can call to get input on how to improve a specific activity they taught last year. What about reading an article or part of a book about child development, 21st-century skills, or some other topic that will help you present yourself as a youth development professional to your campers’ parents? Allot thirty minutes today — AND EVERY DAY — to do ONE THING that will make you a better camp director this year. ONE THING. That’s all.

3. Look Forward

What are your strategic priorities for 2014? Get your key people together this month and figure out three priorities to focus on this winter and spring to make your camp better this summer. Or, if that’s too hard or overwhelming for you at this point, then just circle back to “Look Back” above. Your answers to those questions will help you prioritize for this year.

Get organized! How do you keep your long-term projects organized and on track? There are a lot of project management software programs available that are relatively inexpensive and help you outline steps of each project with deadlines and specific responsibilities. Whatever your system is, take your priorities and plan out how you can, over the next five months, accomplish those projects before camp starts. Don’t put vague, huge items like “hire staff” on your project and deadline list. Instead, put very specific, tangible items like “post a message to returning staff about specific job openings this summer.”

Take the time now to plan ahead to accomplish some small things that will make you a better camp director this year. Enjoy your fresh start and make 2014 your best year yet!

Audrey Monke, with her husband Steve, has owned and directed Gold Arrow Camp (Lakeshore, California) for the past twenty-five years. They have five children (ages ten to twenty) who keep their life camp-like year round. Audrey has been a member of ACA since 1989 and was President of WAIC (Western Association of Independent Camps) from 2007–2010. She writes about camp and parenting at

December 17, 2013

Guest blog by Ann Sheets

The time between Thanksgiving and the New Year always seems to go by in a hurry for me. It seems like it was just yesterday that we were ringing in this year — and already it’s time to celebrate the holidays and start another year. Holidays always make me slow down a little and think about how lucky I am, especially to be involved with the camp community. At the risk of being a little sentimental, here are some things that I am particularly thankful for, now and throughout the year:

I’m thankful . . .

  • that my parents let me go to camp when I was a child. Those first experiences in an organized outdoor program, out in nature and with my friends, set the stage for a lifelong love of the outdoors and the camp experience. Neither of my parents had been campers as children, but they both recognized the importance of camp, from learning independence, to sharpening skills, to spending time in nature.
  • that my parents encouraged me to be a camp counselor, to the point of letting me work at camps far from home, where I knew not one single soul. This Texas girl discovered a whole new world by spending summers in California, Washington, D.C., and Indiana, and along the way made some friends that now forty years later are still very important in my life.
  • for camp directors who were great role models and who told me that if I really wanted to be a camp director, then I should join the American Camp Association (ACA). They were right.
  • for the chance to participate in the learning environments that ACA offers, both locally and nationally.
  • for every ACA committee meeting, task force conference call, and board retreat that I have been a part of. It’s not just the satisfaction of accomplishing a task for ACA, but also the value of relationships that are made with ACA colleagues. My life is richer because of these camp friends who have shared ideas, traditions, and insights.

‘Tis the season of joy, of sharing, and of giving. Here’s to the camp community — thanks and happy holidays to all!

Ann Sheets served as ACA's national president from 2005 to 2008 and recently completed a term as the board development chairman. She is senior vice president at Camp Fire First Texas in Fort Worth.

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