An unexpected telephone call in February 2004 from the Virginia Department of Social Services (VDSS) precipitated an unprecedented frenzy of activity in the American Camp Association (ACA), Virginias local office. With $100,000 in funds suddenly available, grants of up to $15,000 were being offered under the Statewide Child Care Provider Association Grant Program for nonprofit organizations serving providers of child day centers in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Since 1991, all Virginia nonreligious day camps operating for longer than three weeks have been required to be licensed by VDSS as day care centers, qualifying the American Camp Association as an applicant.
The catch? The deadline for application was only two weeks away, and the proposed program was required to begin by June. The ACA, Virginias Board approved participation, and a call went out to the membership. Response was overwhelmingly positive, and nearly twenty members and nonmembers volunteered to give input into the program design and to implement the program, if approved. Markel Insurance agreed to provide a required matching grant of in-kind services, and letters of endorsement were secured from several organizations. A design was proposed by the planning committee, and a few members and the section executive began to prepare the numerous pages of required documentation and descriptions. Just under the wire, the six copies of the grant application were delivered to VDSS in Richmond. By mid-March, the Virginias local office was notified of the award and began planning the first events scheduled for the first week of June.
Training Program Design
Based on the needs assessment conducted by ACA in the fall of 2003, several critical needs were expressed by day camp directors. These included: managing camper behavior, managing staff behavior and motivating staff, camper health and wellness, human resources and personnel, and risk/crisis management. Because most day camps in Virginia are required to be licensed, few day camps choose to be accredited. Unfortunately, VDSS requirements emphasize health and administrative standards with little emphasis on conduct of program and staff training. With day camps under the same umbrella as day care centers, training that is offered to day camp staff is often inconsistent with the outdoor day camp setting and not focused on short-term summer staff. Therefore, the training program outlined in the grant was designed to focus on day camp staff training and to address the specific needs of day camp administrators. The training program consisted of three phases: (a) day camp staff training; (b) day camp administrators' conference; and (c) scholarships for day camp administrators and key staff to attend existing ACA Virginias' educational events.
Phase I: Day Camp Staff Training Evaluation
To meet the requirements of the grant, ACA Virginias collaborated with the 4-H youth development department of Virginia Cooperative Extension at Virginia Tech to provide measurable evidence regarding whether or not the desired outcomes were achieved. The evaluation instruments and procedures were designed using a logic modeling process (W.K. Kellogg Foundation 2004). The goals of the evaluation were: a) to explore the outputs (e.g., participant characteristics and satisfaction ratings) and b) the outcomes (i.e., immediate learning outcomes and short-term behavioral outcomes) associated with participation in these three one-day Day Camp Staff Workshops.
To assess whether or not these outcomes were met, this evaluation was conducted in two parts. In "Part 1," day camp staff members who participated in one day of training were asked to complete a post-training questionnaire. Items for the knowledge and skills portions of the questionnaire were developed by considering the core competencies for youth development professionals identified by the National Collaboration for Youth (2004). The knowledge and skills items were assessed using a retrospective pretest type rating scale (Rockwell & Kohn 1989). Of the 225 participants, a total of 211 completed questionnaires for a response rate of 94 percent. A majority of respondents were seasonal staff members (39 percent); camp directors (24 percent); or camp instructors/teachers (22 percent). Almost half of the participants were affiliated with parks and recreation programs (48 percent). Twenty-six percent of respondents were affiliated with ACA-accredited camps and fifty-three percent were affiliated with camps that are licensed by the Virginia Department of Social Services.
According to respondents, changes in both knowledge and skills occurred as a result of participation in the ACA Day Camp Staff Training Workshops. Two of the areas of greatest change were "meeting the emotional, behavior, and/or physical needs of campers" and "identifying safety concerns at your camp." Paired t-test comparisons between "before training" and "after training" means found significant differences (p<.05) between all of the "before training" and "after training" means. The greatest level of change between means occurred for the following knowledge items: "able to identify strategies for meeting campers' special needs"(.65); "knows how to set appropriate limits for youth behavior" (.58); "understands the human, financial, and property risks associated with camp participation" (.56); "understands the steps for handling stressful or pressured situations involving youth" (.54); and the following skills items: "implements the steps for handling stress or pressured situations involving youth" (.55) and "utilizes strategies to effectively meet campers' special needs" (.54).
Based upon overall workshop satisfaction ratings, respondents were most likely to describe the training as informative and encouraging. All workshops were rated above "average" (3.00), and a majority of the workshops (twenty out of a total of twenty-three workshops) were rated above "very good" (4.00). The overall average rating across all workshops was 4.35.
In "Part 2," day camp directors were asked to complete end-of-summer questionnaires regarding their own day camp staff who had participated in the day camp training workshops. Two approaches were used to assess the degree to which participation in the ACA Day Camp Training Workshops impacted participants' knowledge and skills related to day camping. First, camp administrators were asked to rate their day camp staffs' level of knowledge, skill, and expressed attitude change using an overall Likert-scale type rating, where 1= "no change or improvement" and 5= "signifcant improvement." These measures allowed for comparison with the responses from the workshop participants. Of the fifty-two camp administrators who were mailed a questionnaire, a total of twenty completed questionnaires were returned, for a response rate of 38 percent. Under "knowledge," participants identified that the greatest degree of change occurred in the content areas of "meeting the emotional, behavioral, and/or physical needs of campers" (3.60) and "identifying safety concerns at your camp" (3.59). Under "skills," participants identified that the greatest degree of change occurred in the content areas of "meeting the emotional, behavioral, and/or physical needs of campers" (3.52) and "identifying safety concerns at your camp" (3.51).
The results of this two-part study suggested that ACA Day Camp Staff Training participation positively impacted participants by helping them to develop knowledge and skills related to day camping. Participants in the program indicated, on multiple measures, both satisfaction and knowledge/skill changes. These knowledge/skills changes were directly related to the expected outcomes.
Phase II: Day Camp Administrators' Conference
Phase III: Scholarships for Attendance at ACA Virginias Educational Events
Outcomes of Phases II and III
The results of the evaluations from the Day Camp Administrator's Conference, the 2004 Fall ACA Virginias Workshop, and the 2005 Winter Conference suggested that the following projected outcomes were attained:
Benefits to ACA,Virginias
Over three hundred ACA members and nonmembers were beneficiaries of the ACA,Virginias programs funded by the Statewide Child Care Providers Association Grant and Markel Insurance. The $15,000 grant allowed the local office to share the expenses of the keynoter from the Statewide Administrator's Conference with the annual Winter Section Conference, enabling the section to provide a top quality program for members and nonmembers. Local office membership has shown a significant increase as more youth development professionals have discovered the benefits and programs of the American Camp Association. A mailing list of nearly 1,000 will facilitate better communication in the future for local ACA events. One of the greatest benefits has been a stronger working relationship with the Virginia Department of Social Services. With a better understanding of the organization and quality of ACA programs, VDSS will now allow continuing education credit for day care/day camp staff who participate in section educational events.
Steven Covey has identified "begin with the end in mind" as one of the seven habits of highly effective people and an important principle of personal leadership. But this is also a necessary habit for camp directors and programmers. The results of this grant program reflect the value and importance of "beginning with the end in mind" when it comes to program planning. Research shows, time and time again, that purposeful planning for expected outcomes makes those outcomes more likely to occur. In other words, students learn better when instructors plan ahead and identify what they want students to learn and the methods they plan to use to teach the students. The ACA Virginias local office, by identifying desired outcomes (and the evaluation process for assessing progress towards desired outcomes) for all phases of the grant program at the beginning of the planning process, was better able to achieve the desired outcomes by purposefully linking program content and teaching methods to the expected outcomes.
Barry A. Garst, Ph.D., is an assistant professor and extension specialist in 4-H youth development at Virginia Tech. Garst has worked in residential camp settings in a variety of programmatic and administrative positions for the past fifteen years and is currently responsible for the training, curriculum, standards, evaluation, and research components of Virginia's 4-H camping program. He is an active member in the American Camp Association, Virginias local office and an ACA-accreditation visitor.
Linda Grier Pulliam is executive of ACA, Virginias, and was a camp director for twenty-seven years. She holds an M.S. degree in education.
Originally published in the 2005 November/December issue of Camping Magazine.