by Art Wannlund
Welcome to "The Edge"! So what exactly is "The Edge," and what benefit can it provide you — the camp professional? "The Edge" is what you as a camp professional or camp owner/director should have when you take advantage of the American Camp Association (ACA) Professional Development program or when your camp participates in the ACA-Accreditation Program. How do you gain that edge? And how will ACA's education and accreditation programs provide that edge? Those will be the guiding questions for this series of columns that will appear in each issue of Camping Magazine.
Last year, ACA's National Board of Directors commissioned the Education and Accreditation Task Force to review current education and accreditation programs. The objective was to determine if ACA programs were aligned with the 20/20 Vision. If necessary, programs would be modified to provide the professional development necessary to move toward 20/20 and to recognize the work of camps, through accreditation, that provide the positive programs necessary to develop today's youth.
To increase the number of children benefiting from camp to 20 million, we will definitely need an edge. The competition for the time of today's children is great and diverse. Sadly, a number of the activities competing for a child's time and attention do not contribute to a positive development experience. In order to provide a positive experience that also successfully competes with the vast and diverse array of other activities, we need leaders who are able to supply programs that are fun, exciting, meaningful, and most importantly, that provide the basis for the positive development of the camper. The ACA education program must prepare camp leaders to develop and conduct beneficial programming, and the accreditation program must establish the criteria for positive programs and recognize the camps and programs that are meeting and exceeding this criteria.
As the chairman of the Education and Accreditation Task Force, I have had the opportunity to discuss ACA's current programs with a number of camp owners and directors, ACA local and national leaders, and members. These discussions have been eye opening for me. While there have been a number of thoughts and suggestions shared with me, as well as with other members of the task force, I am going to focus on one reoccurring theme I have heard. The Edge, in the future, will focus on the other challenges we are hearing.
One of the challenges many have conveyed is that "the current program is too challenging for a number of camps who wish to join us." In reviewing other programs from accrediting bodies, I found they are much more rigorous in their accreditation standards than ACA. After my review, I sat down and thought WOW! On one hand we are too challenging, and on the other hand, we aren't as rigorous as others in the youth development field. We often say that going through the accreditation program is an educational process. Well, if it is educational, it must start where the camp and leader are and then move to the next level. In looking at our universe of camps, we are very diverse. We have day camps operated by volunteers for a few weeks during the summer, and we have camps with a vast number of facilities and a large amount of land with year-round staff and operating revenue in the millions. We also have a number of camps that fall in between those two levels of complexity. However, we have one set of standards, so for some they are too much, for others they are not much of a challenge, and for others they are just right. If the accreditation program is to be educational then we should consider a program that starts with the basics and progresses along with the camp to promote continuous development no matter at what point the camp and leaders may start out.
To have an edge, our camps must be performing to their fullest potential and have programs that are seen as beneficial to the children attending the camp — and the parents of children attending the camp. The potential for performance varies from camp to camp, and the expectations of parents and children are also varied based upon the camp experience they have chosen. To have an accreditation program that gives our camps the edge, it must recognize the differences in a camp's potential and the expectations of the parents and children attending the camp. At the same time, we must also set a baseline for all camps to attain. There is one constant all children and parents expect no matter the camp or program they attend; that expectation is the child will be physically and emotionally safe.
In future issues of Camping Magazine, "The Edge" will provide commentary on our education and accreditation program and the work that is being done by the Education and Accreditation Task Force to provide you, the camp professional, an edge in developing today's youth and to provide our camps with the edge in positively impacting our youth.
Art Wannlund retired as the president/CEO of YMCA of Orange County in 2007, where he provided direction to the $30 million Association, with over eighty-five program locations, and a staff of over eight hundred. He currently serves on the ACA Board of Directors and is the chair of the Education and Accreditation Task Force.
Originally published in the 2009 January/February issue of Camping Magazine.