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.