Camp Program Quality Initiative

November 16, 2020
Jessie Dickerson
Camp Program Quality Initiative logo

Summer camp is known to be a supportive and enriching environment for youth development. Peter Katz, in his 2008 hit, The Camp Song, sings that there's "something [about camp] you can't touch.". As camp professionals, I imagine these lyrics resonate. To me, Katz is singing about the quality of the interactions between the kids and the staff through intentional programming. Building systems of continuous quality improvement within our camps and greater community ultimately supports our goal of positive youth development — and this is exactly what the Camp Program Quality Initiative has set out to do.

In our first year of this two-year project funded by a grant from the Lilly Endowment, Inc., the initiative team convened a Community of Practice comprised of over 25 camp and youth development professionals representing ACA-accredited camps, non-accredited camps, and other youth development organizations across the country. We began updating and revising resources for a more sustainable and accessible Camp Program Quality Toolkit, and we have been working toward bridging ACA accreditation with our program quality work to support both safety and quality in camp programs.

We had planned to conduct site visits and other in-person training sessions around program quality during the summer of 2020. However, we, too, had to change our methods of achieving our objectives due to the Covid-19 pandemic. With team and community members practicing recommended guidelines, we shifted to a virtual format. Instead of conducting site visits and in-person training, we dove deeply into updating and revising the Program Quality Toolkit and came up with a plan to better utilize our Community of Practice in achieving our outcomes. I'll speak more to this plan in a moment.

Throughout our conversations over the summer with our Community of Practice and through our attention to how the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and all those who came before and after them have further exposed the racism deeply engrained in the systems that run this country, we noticed a huge gap in our quality initiative. We started asking questions about how racism is pervasive within camp systems and the ACA, how social justice and inclusion are tied to program quality, and how we, as a community, can support camps in becoming antiracist, having diverse programs, and including and being accessible for all children, with equity in positive youth development as the goal.

This fall, to elevate equity as a priority in our program quality efforts within this project and beyond, we invited all interested community members to join a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Integration Team led by a hired, external DEI expert. To better utilize our community to meet our initiative objectives, we asked members to choose to participate in one of the following working groups:

  • Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) Systems Design: To design an embedded, sustainable CQI system across multiple levels of camp organizational systems.
  • Assessment Development: To advance the development and refinement of a proposed Camp Program Quality Assessment, which will directly tie in to our future Coach/Observer trainings next year (2021).
  • Toolkit & Resource Development: To ensure that the revised toolkit and subsequent resources incorporate the perspectives of practitioners through narratives, case studies, and interactive activities.

To ensure the integration of a DEI lens in our work, members of the DEI Integration Team represent each working group.

We are constantly adapting to the new "normal” this extraordinary year has brought and are hopeful for what next year will bring for the initiative. We look forward to meeting regularly with our DEI Integration Team to truly view our program quality work through this lens, designing systems of quality across individual camp organizational levels and ACA, hosting Program Quality Coach/Observer training sessions early this spring, and infusing our toolkit with real stories about real camp experiences.

To stay up to date on this project, keep an eye out for a series of future blog posts that will give an in-depth look at the work we're doing with our DEI Integration Team and the three working groups. We are excited to share what we're learning and working on with the greater ACA and camp communities!