Camp Program Quality Initiative

Camp Program Quality Initiative logo

Program Quality

Program quality refers to the ways camp staff practices, activities, and program climate foster youth development outcomes consistently over time. Fundamental to this concept is that quality is determined at the point of service, which represents how individual youth participants interact with camp staff and their peers during structured and unstructured time. A high-quality program consistently promotes youth development when young people feel these interactions are safe, inclusive, and invite them to make meaningful choices about their experience. In essence, program quality represents how programs are implemented. 

We generally look at program quality in two ways. First is in terms of program quality assessment. Because program quality is subjective, assessing program quality requires a trained observer who knows how to recognize indicators of quality that are outlined in a program quality assessment tool.

We also look at program quality in terms of continuous program improvement. All programs, regardless of their size, experience, and accreditation status, can improve, and improvement is most effective when it is an ongoing process of assess-plan-improve and assess again. Because of the ongoing and subjective nature of this work, the Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality recommends a systems approach to ensure camps of all types can engage in continuous program improvement in ways that are accessible and relevant to them. These systems include access to tools, trained observers, professional development, and networks of peer learning and support. 

Where We’ve Been

ACA developed the Camp Program Quality Assessment tool in partnership with the Weikart Center in 2007 and currently makes a short form and a simplified checklist available to the camp community on the ACA website.  Both of these tools are designed for training staff and for use by internal staff teams to conduct observations and use their observations to identify opportunities of improvement while the camp program is in session. It’s meant to be informal, ongoing, and engage staff at all levels.

A more comprehensive version of the Camp Program Quality Assessment tool is available via the Weikart Center. This tool uses numeric scores as a way to benchmark quality indicators over time; as such, Weikart Center recommends camp program providers work with trained observers to use this tool, interpret the observational data, and make a plan for improvement. 

These Program Quality Assessment tools are currently being updated and revised.

Where We’re Going

With the generous support of Lilly Endowment, Inc., ACA is launching an initiative to develop systems of support for program quality at camps.  This two-year pilot project will be conducted in partnership with the Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality and will conclude with a plan for national scale up.  Specific components of the project include:

Community of Practice

  • ~20 camp professionals representing diverse camp types and regions.
  • In-person and virtual meetings to share knowledge and explore oppotunities and barriers related to program quality assessment in camps.
  • Option to test program quality tools and be trained as a program quality coach-observer.

Program Quality Systems

  • Continued development and expansion of Camp Program Quality assessment tool, in partnership with Weikart Center
  • Pilot test of training program quality coach-observers, in partnership with Weikart Center
  • Plan for incentivizing and recognizing camps participating in continuous program improvement.

Program Quality Toolkit

  • Revision of Creating Positive Youth Outcomes workbook
  • Plan for further toolkit development, including in-person, digital, and print resources to support program quality improvement at camps.

Impact of Covid-19

The Initiative was intended to host in-person meetings with our Community of Practice, which we have named the Program Quality Peer Network, site visits, and other in-person trainings around program quality during the summer of 2020. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we pivoted our methods of achieving the Initiative’s objectives towards a virtual format that utilized the Program Quality Peer Network in achieving our outcomes. We asked our members 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 into our future Coach/Observer trainings in 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.

Project Timeline

Spring 2020
Program launch, Community of Practice recruitment

Summer 2020
Community of Practice virtual meetings and goal setting (renamed the Community of Practice to Program Quality Peer Network)

Fall 2020
Virtual meetings with Program Quality Peer Network working groups

Spring 2021
Pilot test virtual coach-observer training & Community of Practice virtual meetings

Summer 2021
Program quality observations & tool testing at select camps*

Fall 2021
In-person meetings with Program Quality Peer Network, toolkit field testing*

January 2022
Final recommendations for scale up and resource development

*If Covid-19 restrictions allow

Program Quality Peer Network—Advisors

  • Brodrick Clarke, Field Consultant with the Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality, ACA National Board Member
  • Don Whipple, Mountain Camp Owner and Director
  • Georgia HallDirector and Senior Research Scientist with the National Institute on Out-of-School Time
  • Josh PhillipsChief Executive Officer with Change Summer
  • Leslie Gabay-Swanston, Director of Program and Systems Quality for Summer Learning
  • Mary RogersExecutive Director Emeritus for Sherwood Forest, ACA National Board Member, CARE Member
  • Sandy Weaver, Penn State University, National Standards Commission
  • Shauna GuglielmoCamp Programs Coordinator for the Lincoln Park Zoo

Program Quality Peer Network—Camp Members

  • Flat Rock River YMCA Camp, Mark Scoular and Debra Scoular
  • Fresh Air Fund, Roberto Gil and Alexandra Margevich
  • Sherwood Forest, Rachel Tutwiler and Aliyah Walls
  • Sanborn Western Camps, Ariella Rogge and Emily Burnham
  • JCC Indiana, Erin Mills and Caitlyn Mills
  • Jameson Camp, Jennie Broady
  • Camp Twin Lakes, Josh Sweat and Michelle Bevan
  • Tim Horton Children’s Foundation, Katie Wheatley and Lacey Maglinger
  • Girl Scouts of Northeastern Texas, Sally Dover
  • Indiana University, Tim Nowak

Who We Are—The Initiative Team

Laurie Browne, Ph. D., ACA Director of Research

Laurie has served as ACA's Director of Research since 2016; prior to that, she was on faculty at California State University, Chico, and prior to that she was a day camp director in Salt Lake City. Laurie is passionate about camp and helping camp professionals tell powerful stories about camp experiences through research and evaluation. Laurie lives in Salt Lake City with her husband, three teenagers, two dogs, three cats, and ten chickens. She does not have any free time.

Jessie Dickerson, M.S., Project Manager
Jessie is the Project Manager for the Camp Program Quality Initiative. In this role, she keeps a consistent eye and voice across the many facets of the project, manages logistics and collaboration efforts within ACA and with outside youth development and research organizations, co-leads a team of professionals dedicated to the infusion of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion throughout the Initiative, coordinates the connection of our Community of Practice through intentional meetings and virtual spaces, and she assists with communications and dissemination of our program quality work. Before starting full time with the Initiative, Jessie worked as a research assistant for the University of Utah’s Youth Lab while completing her master’s degree in the Parks, Recreation, and Tourism program.

Ensuring that camp is truly for all kids is what fuels Jessie’s work. She’s dedicated to supporting camps in striving for equity, for them to be a safe and supportive space for all youth, which is a critical piece of program quality.

When she isn’t working from home with her cat, Stuart, Jessie spends her time exploring the Utah desert, packrafting western whitewater, and skiing in the Wasatch Range.

Victoria Povilaitis, Ph. D., ACA Researcher
Victoria has worked for many years in the summer camp industry, in a variety of roles, including Sports Coach, Athletic Director, Staffing Coordinator, Program Director, and researcher. She has Bachelors’ degrees in Education and Physical Education, a master’s degree in Sport Psychology, and a PhD in Parks, Recreation, and Tourism. Her research focus is youth and emerging adult development in out-of-school-time experiences. She is involved in research for the ACA Impact Study Projects and has been a recipient of ACA’s Marge Scanlin Award for Outstanding Student Research. Victoria is also involved in summer camp organizations internationally as she serves on the Canadian Camp Association Research Committee. In her work, Victoria aims to bridge gaps between research and practice and seeks to make research understandable, applicable, and impactful for all youth and young adult practitioners.

For this project, Victoria is a lead of the Toolkit and Resource Development working group. In this group she works closely with members of the community of practice to understand their perspectives and experiences and incorporate them into the Toolkit. In addition, as a research member of the team, Victoria is working to understand how this community of practice functions and share our learning with the broader industry of youth development practitioners and researchers.

Allison Dymnicki, Ph.D., American Institutes for Research
Allison Dymnicki is a Principal Researcher at the American Institutes for Research (AIR) with extensive expertise in youth development, implementation science, systems change, measurement and methodology, evaluation design, and mixed-methods research. On the ACA Camp Program Quality Initiative, she partners with ACA in the development, execution, and evaluation of the Program Quality Peer Network community of practice and has helped to conceptualize the toolkit being developed. She has also partnered with other leaders in the out-of-school space including Girls Inc., the YMCA, the Playworks, and Serious Fun to explore how different aspects of their programs can facilitate youth, adult, and organizational change. She is particularly interested in bridging the gap between research and practice for camp staff, policy makers, and funding agencies by understanding factors like readiness to implement new programs. 

She obtained her masters and doctorate in Community Psychology and Prevention Research from University of Illinois at Chicago. 

Kimberly Howard Robinson, Ph.D., Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality
Kimberly Howard Robinson is an executive vice president of the Forum for Youth Investment and managing director of the Forum’s Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality where she leads efforts to strengthen adult practice through the development and support of continuous improvement systems that focus on organizational and staff practices supporting positive youth development. The use of research evidence and continuous improvement approaches to support children and families is a theme that runs throughout Dr. Robinson’s career, which has spanned academia, public education, philanthropy and nonprofits. Kim earned her Ph.D. in developmental psychology from the University of Notre Dame.

Poonam Borah, Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality
Poonam joined the Weikart Center in 2016 and primarily manages a portfolio of evaluation/design studies and funding proposals in coordination with internal and external teams. Poonam has conducted and managed applied research studies and teams focusing on identification of instructional and management practice, measure validation, and impact studies linking instructional quality to change in student skills specifically around social and emotional learning. Prior to her role at the Weikart Center, Poonam has four years of teaching experience in both school and afterschool settings in India, Bhutan, and the US. Additionally, she has worked with pre-service teachers at the University of Michigan focusing on identifying and analyzing teachers’ knowledge of disciplinary literacy methods and practices.

Along with her professional experience, Poonam holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English from the university of Delhi and a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership and Policy from the University of Michigan with a focus on using collaborative inquiry into educational practice to shape equity-based systemic improvement efforts. Her educational training has equipped her to analyze student work, observe instructional practice, use inquiry-based teaching methods, triangulate data, and use evidence-based action planning to develop and articulate a vision of high-quality instruction that is nestled within a continuous improvement system.

Barbara Hillaker, Ph. D., Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality
Barbara Hillaker’s work centers on developing or improving measures, assuring that they are aligned with developmental science and are psychometrically valid and reliable.

Prior to coming to the Weikart Center, Barbara developed curriculum and conducted formative evaluations for Michigan State Extension and conducted data collection and analyses for the Building Early Emotion Skills project, a Michigan State University project connected to the national evaluation of Early Head Start.

She received a BA from the University of Michigan, an MS in Family Community Services, and a Ph. D. in Human Development and Family Studies from Michigan State University. She is a first or contributing author to several articles published in peer reviewed journals.

Victor Rivera, Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Consultant
Victor Rivera is the Manager of Strategic Priorities with the YMCA of the USA. As a member of the Diversity & Inclusion and International Teams, Victor focuses on creating strategies and opportunities for local Ys to improve their efforts and connection to communities with an aim of equity; anticipating all work is done to include those who are most marginalized. This work was instrumental during Victor’s tenure as the Director of Resident Opportunity for Self Sufficiency at the Worcester Housing Authority.  In addition to his work at YUSA, Victor has led teams that support the community in Youth Development, Information Technology and Membership & Wellness over the last 13 years.

Victor’s role in the Camp Program Quality Initiative as the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Consultant supports the Initiative’s goals to elevate DEI in camp program quality. He co-leads our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Integration Team and works closely with other Initiative Team members, with the goal of infusing this work throughout the Initiative.  

Victor is energized by problems where others may be in dismay. The challenge of analyzing symptoms and identifying issues gives him the greatest push when working with individuals or organizations. Whether the situation is complicated or unexpected, Victor embraces the confusion and develops new solutions.  

Aside from what he does for the Y, Victor is a fan of reading, travel and spending time with his wife and son. A native to the city of Worcester, Massachusetts and son of parents from the Bronx, Victor has a deep appreciation for his Nuyorican roots.