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ACA’s Camp Program Improvement Project: Discovering Program Strategies That Make a Difference
As a follow-up to ACA's Youth Development Outcomes project (2001-2004), the Camp Program Improvement Project is a new ACA capacity-building effort currently progressing in collaboration with Youth Development Strategies, Inc. (YDSI).
This project is focused on determining specific camp program strategies that improve the quality of the experience campers receive. The project measures responses of youth to the presence and implementation of "supports and opportunities" deemed necessary to strong youth programming and positive outcomes. We will discover program strategies that strengthen outcomes for youth in camp and other youth programs. Camp program evaluation is being conducted in four areas of supports and opportunities for youth:
Twenty camps are working with Michelle Alberti Gambone, Ph.D., president of YDSI, in this new research endeavor. In the following interview, Michelle shares some of the basics of this new project and what the results will mean to the camp community.
Please explain to us briefly the nature of this research project.
The second phase of the study we call the Program Improvement Pilot (PIP). In this pilot, twenty camps were selected from the original eighty camps. These camps were representative of the whole group. Within this phase of the project, we are interested in examining the supports and opportunities of the camp experience and in understanding the effect of various program strategies on youth perceptions of their camp experience. We view this pilot study as the starting point of a process to reflect even further on the strengths of the camp experience for young people.
In your opinion, how would you explain the difference between our outcomes research efforts and the YDSI research?
The second distinction is that we were not only intrigued by finding out the benefits of the camp experience, we were interested to know why camps were or were not improving their outcomes. The initial outcomes study, as is true of all such efforts, left us with more questions we now want to answer: What happens from a developmental aspect in camp that helps campers improve and what are the supports and opportunities the camp experience offers campers?
Another variation between the outcomes study and the current pilot is that the outcomes study measured how campers benefited from the camp experience, but the pilot study focuses on the attributes of the camp experience that cause success or even failure among the camper population in terms of supportive relationships, safety, youth participation, and skill building.
How long will the Program Improvement Pilot (PIP) project last before we are able to benefit from your findings?
In addition, the twenty camps participating in the PIP project gathered together last fall and winter to analyze and reflect on their individual camps' data. We asked the camps questions: Why are campers experiencing camp the way they are? How are they involved in decision making? And, many other poignant questions. During this meeting, the camps created an action plan. They now have a set of strategies to implement at camp. Once they have implemented these camp-specific strategies, we will resurvey the twenty camps this summer. We will look at data in the fall of ‘05 identifying strategies and practices that really boost the benefits kids get at camp, and then we will share this information with the larger camp community and with other youth development organizations and leaders.
How were ACA camps chosen to participate?
Why does this PIP project matter — to our members and to camps?
ACA and the camp community are groundbreakers and a model for the rest of the youth development community, offering plausible evidence as to how a system that cares for young people can do the best job. There is a lot to learn from the camp community, and we can offer these important lessons to other organizations beyond camp, including out-of-school organizations, neighborhoods, local youth clubs, schools, and any group that has the best interests of youth in mind.
It matters because it matters to the kids. Everything we do for them must be done in the best possible way. We have that responsibility. This project will help us and other organizations to do the best possible job.
How will this type of project and future projects influence what we do at our camps?
How can we apply what you and ACA are doing to the messages we are sharing with parents?
The most important benefactor of this research is children. If we learn the kind of strategies necessary to build even richer developmental experiences for campers, they will be the first to benefit.
In the next month or so, we will be gathering a study group to strategize the best ways and best advantages to sharing the research results inside and outside the camp community.
Originally published in the 2005 May/June issue of Camping Magazine.