Bringing the Classroom to Summer Camp

by Aaron Ranstrom

Running, swimming, baseball, basketball, sailboats, and sun — these
are the first images associated with summer camp. This past summer, however,
Camp Alvernia added a new program — visual media.

The planning for these programs started the previous summer when Brother
Robert LaFave, camp director, saw the need to broaden the camp experience
for the children. With the wide variety of interests that youth have
today, he recognized that not every child is athletic and interested
in programs and activities that are exclusively physical. Brother Robert
wanted to offer additional programs that would allow campers to show
off their otherwise hidden talents and give those who were interested
the opportunity to share their abilities — in a more reserved manner.

In our first year of this program, we kept the equipment at a minimum
using an 8-mm video camera, a moderately priced PC with a video capture
card for digital editing capabilities, and a few VCRs for duplication
to provide each of the participating campers with a copy of their production.
There is minimal knowledge or technical expertise necessary for running
this program. Basic experience in using video and computer editing equipment
is all that is required. We made sure that we began with user-friendly
equipment and software.

Program Goals

Although there were a multitude of goals we envisioned for this program,
those that we focused on were:

  • the importance of teamwork and cooperation through social interaction,
  • an introduction to the impact and importance that computers and technology
    have on society,
  • a demonstration of the validity, as well as the differences that
    occur on television versus reality,
  • an exposure to the challenges faced in producing a television show,
  • a realization that life is not always action-packed and that there
    are slow moments in life (the Sesame Street effect),
  • an awareness that seeing is not always believing by creating low-quality
    special effects, and
  • a feeling of self-esteem by accomplishing an ambitious project and
    rewarding each of the campers with a copy of his or her own production.

Simply putting a video camera in the campers’ hands and letting
them run around the camp achieved all of these goals.

Program Layout

In order to introduce the program slowly and to not burden ourselves
with an overwhelming number of campers at once, we set up the visual
media program on a parallel schedule to the regular camp schedule. We
also capped the attendance to between twelve and fifteen campers in each
class. In order to attend the visual media classes, it was necessary
to pull the campers out of their groups and normal activities for that
time period. Because of this, we distributed flyers during camp registration
in order for the parents to understand the program and grant written
permission for their children to participate. After the permission slips
were sorted, we grouped the participants by age, mixing boys and girls.
Although Camp Alvernia enrolls campers ages four to fourteen, the visual
media program was open only to the older campers, ages eight to fourteen.

Based on a two-week session and eight-period days (each forty minutes
long), the visual media program met three days a week for two periods
in a row. Meeting Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at the same time each
day, campers were escorted from their groups to the visual media classroom.
Because Camp Alvernia operates on a rotating global camp schedule, participating
campers did not miss the same activities every time the class met. With
this schedule, we were able to create three separate visual media classes
each session allowing for three simultaneous video projects.

Program Operations

The following is an abbreviated structure of how the course was scheduled
during each session.

Day one

At the first meeting with the campers, we evaluated their knowledge of computers,
gave a brief tutorial history of movies and television, instructed the campers
on how to use each piece of equipment we would use in the classes, and finally
created a storyboard of our video project.

Each group was given the liberty to create their own project within
reason. If they had no ideas for a project, standard examples were suggested
to get the ball rolling. The focus of the program was to have the group
agree upon the theme of the video. At this time, the class decided the
locations at which filming would take place and the events that would
occur in each scene. For this to work effectively, under supervision,
we allowed the class to go virtually anywhere on camp property to record
the necessary scenes.

Days two through four

After the campers understood the focus of the program, we roamed the camp property
and filmed in the necessary locations, allocating enough time to record the
scenes for the video project. Starting on day four we began reviewing the
acceptable scenes and uploading them to the computer. Editing of the video
began.

Day five

On this day, we continued to edit the video, placing the scenes in the proper
order, and adding text overlays, sound effects, and background music.

Day six

On the final day, we distributed copies of the final product to each member
of the group and watched the completed project.

Between classes, we would take care of the slow operations such as video
rendering and duplication.

Program Results

We were successful in meeting many of the goals we established. At the
end of each session, we had three different video projects and each of
the participants went home with his or her own copy. When time was available,
a house copy was played during an all-camp session for the rest of the
camp and staff to view.

During the session and after viewing the projects of the first session,
more and more campers wanted to sign up for the program. The program
ran parallel with the regular schedule, and the participants were pulled
out of their activities to take part in the class, missing whatever activity
landed at that time for that day. Through the first session (first two
weeks of camp) the number of campers enrolled in each of the three classes
was only about six or seven. After the other campers started to understand
what we were doing, more and more wanted to join and were asking for
permission slips. After most of the camp viewed the video produced by
one of the second session classes, more campers signed up for the program.
By the last session, weeks seven and eight of camp, each of the three
visual media classes had an enrollment of between twelve and fifteen
campers. Brother Robert, camp director, received many comments from parents
saying that their children enjoyed the visual media program very much,
and they are already thinking of ideas for next year.

Camp Alvernia’s visual media class broadened the horizons for
our campers, giving them the opportunity to display their unique talents
and creativity. Through this classroom-style program, we were able to
reach out to all campers. Those children who may not have a great interest
in the various sports activities we offer found that they enjoyed the
more cerebral activity of learning video production and the artistic
outlet the program offered.

Aaron Ranstrom, a senior at SUNY Farmingdale, majors
in computer programming and is a crew coach for Hofstra University
and St. Anthony’s High School. He created and organized the visual
media program for Camp Alvernia in which the campers produced three
creative videos for each of the sessions during the summer of 2001.
In addition to the visual media program he created, Ranstrom is developing
a rowing program for the summer of 2002

Originally published in the 2002 May/June
issue of Camping Magazine.

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