Hello Camp Evaluators!  In my last post, I wrote about ACA’s Impact Study and some of the things we are learning as we launch Phase 1.  What I didn’t share is a second exciting ACA research project — this one focused on leadership development among CITs/LITs and young staff.   To tell you about this project I asked Dr. Deb Bialeschki — former ACA Director of Research and now Senior Researcher — to describe the purpose and timeline, as well as how this project complements the 5-Year Impact Study.

Here’s Deb:

Spring is the time of year when many camp professionals have challenges related to staff recruitment on their minds. We want to find the perfect “camp people”: individuals who are mature, responsible, skilled, motivated, safe, fun, and energetic — and oh, by the way, are willing to work 16-hour days and are not bothered by a modest paycheck at the end of the season.

Retaining great staff or “growing” staff from campers are two ways camp professionals try to minimize staffing challenges, yet we know very little about why staff choose to work at camp, what they get out of working at camp, and how they grow while they are at camp.  We believe that leadership development is an important outcome of working at camp, especially as it pertains to college, career, and life readiness, but this is still somewhat of a “black box” process.  Well, that is about to change! 

The University of Utah and the American Camp Association were recently awarded a grant from the Spencer Foundation that recognizes our long-standing Research-Practice Partnership (RPP) focused on youth learning and positive development through camp experiences. The purpose of this three-year grant is to give the RPP support to pursue new research, and we have decided to focus that research on staffing practices and outcomes.

The project has a two-part focus: 1) to understand the best ways to engage older youth in structured leadership opportunities (CIT/LIT programs) and 2) to understand how to recruit, train, and retain high quality program staff for seasonal camp programs. We are most interested in identifying promising practices that can be adopted by camps to enhance career/college and life readiness through these summer leadership experiences and that result in high quality youth leaders. Those of you familiar with ACA’s Research 360 will see a parallel to that research project. So while not the same, both projects complement each other very well.

You may be asking yourself “So, how are they going to tackle this two-bucket question?” In a nutshell, here’s how:

Year 1 (2017):

  • Interview a representative sample of ACA-accredited camps about their CIT/LIT programs and their staffing practices, barriers, and successes
  • Specifically identify outcomes tied to career/college/life readiness for LIT/CIT participants as well as camp staff

Year 2 (2018):

  • Develop the findings from the interviews into two benchmarking surveys focused on career/college/life readiness outcomes and barriers among LIT/CIT participants and camp staff; administer each survey to a national sample of ACA accredited camps
  • Interview employers about perceptions of camp employment in hiring decisions
  • Develop a community of practice that aligns with RPP priorities

Year 3 (2019):

  • Convene a community of practice at ACA National Conference and online through ACA Connect
  • Translate the findings into practical applications for camp and other out-of-school seasonal programs
  • Prepare and share with the ACA community the “best practices” related to CIT/LIT and staff development programming

Whew! This project is a tall order, but we are confident it will help us identify how we prepare emerging adults for college, career, and life through CIT/LIT and staff development programs. We believe in our hearts that camp is a great place to prepare campers and staff for career/college/life readiness — and this project will provide the evidence needed to help us advocate for working at camp as a solution for life readiness.

Deb Bialeschki, PhD is an ACA Senior Researcher whose work focuses on the Spencer Project on leadership development among camp staff.  Formerly ACA's Director of Research and Chair of the Professional Development Center for the American Camp Association, Deb is also Professor Emeritus from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Deb’s research interests include youth development, the value of outdoor experiences, gender perspectives, program improvement, and staff training. She loves the outdoors, time with friends (including four-legged furry ones), and well-toasted s’mores.

Photo courtesy of Camp Howe in Goshen, MA.

Thanks to our research partner, Redwoods.


Additional thanks goes to our research supporter, Chaco.