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. 

As a partner of the Forum for Youth Investment's (Forum) Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality (Weikart Center), we observe program quality using a program quality assessment to engage in a process of continuous quality improvement. Because program quality is subjective, the program quality assessment is a tool that provides indicators of quality which can be used by teams for self-assessment or by trained observers for external assessment.

All programs regardless of their size, experience, and accreditation status can improve. Continuous quality improvement is designed to be a repeating, cyclical process of prepare-assess-plan-improve; an effective sequence that establishes a supportive system for improvement. Because of the ongoing and subjective nature of this work, the Forum's Weikart Center recommends a systems approach to ensure camps of all types can engage in continuous quality improvement in ways that are accessible and relevant to them. These systems include access to tools, trained program quality assessors and coaches, professional development workshops and trainings, and a community of practice centered around peer learning and support.

History of Camp Program Quality

ACA developed the Camp Program Quality Assessment tool in partnership with the Forum's Weikart Center in 2007 and currently makes a short form and simplified checklist available to the camp community. Both 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. These assessments are meant to be informal, ongoing, and designed to engage staff at all levels.

In 2020, with the generous support of Lilly Endowment, Inc., ACA launched an initiative to develop systems of support for program quality at camps. This two-year pilot project was conducted in partnership with the Forum's Weikart Center and concluded with a plan for a national "scale-up." Specific components of the pilot project included:

Community of Practice

  • ~20 camp professionals representing diverse camp types and regions
  • Participated in virtual meetings to share knowledge and explore opportunities and barriers related to program quality assessment in camps
  • Tested program quality tools and participated in professional development and program quality trainings

Program Quality Systems

  • Continued development and expansion of Camp Program Quality Assessment tool, in partnership with the Forum's Weikart Center
  • Pilot tested a training structure for program quality coach-observers, in partnership with the Forum's Weikart Center
  • Planned for the support of a national "scale-up"

Program Quality Toolkit

  • Revised ACA's Creating Positive Youth Outcomes workbook
  • Planned for further toolkit development, including in-person, digital, and print resources to support program quality improvement at camps

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Integration Team

  • Ensured that each component of the project was pursued to elevate equity
  • Developed the Creating Inclusive Camps tool


At the end of 2021, our team and community of practice developed a plan to nationally scale up our program quality work. The following four sections outline how you can get involved and elevate program quality in your camp!


A quality camp program is one where the staff practices, activities, and program climate of the camp foster youth development outcomes consistently over time. With your own camp as a baseline, these tools can help your staff plan for and practice camp program quality and assess the effects of your improvements over time.

2007 Camp Program Quality Assessment — Short Form

The Camp Program Quality Assessment (CPQA)—Short Form is a free downloadable PDF designed for your staff team to use too examine, discuss, and plan to improve the quality of your camp program. The Short Form provides an introduction to the best practices of positive youth development based on the widely used Youth Program Quality Assessment (YPQA) tool from the Forum's Weikart Center. 

The CPQA—Short Form contains three sections

  • Program offerings. This observational form is designed for structured programs that youth attend for a set time with  a set purpose while at camp. These offerings may be referred to as programs, clubs, workshops, classes, etc.
  • Informal climate. This observational form is designed to capture youth experiences in non-program offering times, such as mealtimes, transitions, or free time. This form also includes an optional segment that focuses on the camp's efforts to foster an affinity for nature in their programs for campers. 
  • Camp structure and administration. This form is intended to capture how the camp's structure and administration support program quality. This form is completed through an interview with the camp director or other appropriate person. 

Download the CPQA—Short Form

2007 Camp Program Quality Assessment—Staff Checklist

The Camp Program Quality Assessment (CPQA)—Staff Checklist is a condensed version of the Short Form and is perfect for staff training and observation.

Download the CPQA—Staff Checklist


2022 Continuous Quality Improvement: Organizational Improvements Workbook

Coming soon! 

2022 Continuous Quality Improvement: Improving the Youth Expereince Workbook

Coming soon!

2022 Social and Emotional Learning—Program Quality Assessment for Camp (SEL PQA for Camp)

ACA and the Forum's Weikart Center partnered on the Camp Program Quality Initiative (CPQI) to develop systems of support for improving program quality at camp. As a part of the CPQI, an assessment work group comprised of camp leaders came together to review the Weikart Center's core program quality assessment tools, especially the Social and Emotional Learning Program Quality Assessment (SEL PQA). Based on recommendations and iterative work of this group, the SEL PQA was adapted for a camp audience to create the SEL PQA for Camp. The SEL PQA for Camp is a set of items that measures campers' access to key developmental experiences and produces scores that can be used for comparison and assessment of progress over time. It is designed to assess the quality of camp programs and identify staff training needs. Like all of the Weikart Center's Program Quality Assessments, the SEL PQA for Camp can be used for self-assessment and/or external assessment. 

Download the SEL PQA for Camps

Trained External Program Quality Assessors

In 2020, in partnership with the Forum's Weikart Center, the ACA began to build a community of trained, external program quality assessors. External assessors are people outside of your camp program who go through a reliability training process to make sure they would score an observation the same way that expert raters would. For networks and camps looking to deepen their intervention, external assessors provide an objective perspective in scoring the PQA, which is helpful in identifying areas of improvement. 

If you are interested in becoming a trained, external program quality assessor, or if you are interested in having a trained assessor visit your camp, please contact Jessie Dickerson at

Professional Development & Trainings

Learn to support your organizations program quality by participating in trainings geared toward program quality at Camp! The following trainings align with the continuous quality improvement cycle and are offered with your professional development and the quality of your programs in mind.

These trainings can count towards Continuing Education Credits. Please contact Jessie Dickerson at for more information!


Introduction to Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI)

This free online course offered by the Forum's Weikart Center makes the case for program quality and its importance in fostering youth engagement, skill development, and youth ooutcomes. You'll learn about the common elements of continuous quality improvement and plan your next steps to support quality improvement in your youth program, organization, or network.

Register for Introduction to Continuous Quality Improvement


Program Quality Assessment Basics for Camps

This workshop trains camp staff on the CQI cycle, the SEL PQA for Camp tool, and prepares participants to lead the self-assessment process with their team.

No Upcoming Trainings

Beyond Basics for Camps

This workshop provides a deeper dive into the items of the SEL PQA for Camp tool to prepare participants to engage in a team-based self-assessment process.

UPCOMING TRAINING: March 8th, 2022, 2:00 - 5:00pm EST

Register for Beyond Basics for Camps

Camp Program Quality Initiative Spring Retreat: Assessor Coach Workshop for Camps

This workshop trains experienced SEL PQA for Camp users to qualify for a two-year endorsement as External Assessors, and equips them with strategies to support coaching with camp staff to reflect on and improve youth work practice. Check out this webpage for more information.

UPCOMING TRAINING: Camp Program Quality Initiative Spring Retreat
March 31st - April 3rd, 2022
The Nature Place at Sanborn Western Camps
Register for the CPQI Spring Retreat and the Assessor Coach Workshop for Camps


Planning with Data

With SEL PQA for Camp scores in hand, participants practice reading their data, learn what it takes to set and refine their improvement goals, and realize the changes within their program. This workshop supports site teams in setting goals and aligning resources for improvement. 



Social and Emotional Learning Youth Work Methods Workshops

This suite of 10 workshops, aligned with the SEL PQA for Camp, are hands-on workshops that provide participants with SEL skills geared to improve the quality of staff interactions with youth and support youth SEL skill development.

Quality Coaching

This training supports and enhances the skills of individuals who provide coaching and technical assistance to program managers within a quality improvement system. 

UPCOMING TRAINING: Camp Program Quality Initiative Spring Retreat
March 31st - April 3rd, 2022
The Nature Place at Sanborn Western Camps
Register for the CPQI Spring Retreat and the Quality Coaching Workshop

Community of Practice

Our program quality community of practice is designed for camp practitioners to engage with the continuous quality improvement cycle alongside their peers. Our network members participate in trainings together and engage in live, virtual, and interactive monthly Zoom meetings to learn from each other's experiences. This community has direct access to program quality coaches throughout the year. 

If you are interested in joining our community of practice, please contact Jessie Dickerson at

Camp Program Quality Initiative 2020-2021 Community of Practice 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
  • Tim Nowak

Camp Program Quality Initiative 2020-2021 Community of Practice Camp Members

  • Flat Rock River YMCA Camp, Mark Scoular and Debra Scoular
  • Fresh Air Fund, Roberto Gil and Alexandra Margevich
  • Sherwood Forest, Alexis Newsome and Aliyah Walls
  • Sanborn Western Camps, Ariella Rogge, Emily Burnham, Ann Shingler, and Jill Reasor
  • JCC Indiana, Caitlyn Mills and Myranda Tetzlaff
  • Jameson Camp, Jennie Broady
  • Camp Twin Lakes, Josh Sweat, Michelle Bevan, and Anna Hutchison
  • Tim Horton's Foundation Camps, Katie Wheatley and Lacey Maglinger
  • Girl Scouts of Northeastern Texas, Sally Dover and Melissa Pipes

The 2020-2021 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. 

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, and resides in Ann Arbor, MI.

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.

Steph Love, Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality, The Forum for Youth Investment
Steph Love is a senior learning and development at the Forum's Weikart Center with over 20 years of experience leading creative and innovative youth development and outdoor education programs as an international trainer, facilitator, coach, and outdoor educator. She had the honor of directing the HighScope Institute for IDEAS, where she worked directly with David and Phyllis Weikart. In addition to her professional experience using the Active-Participatory Apprach as an outdoor educator and wilderness guide foor the Voyageur Outward Boound School (VOBS), YMCA Widjiwagan and Wintergreen Dogsledding Lodge in Ely, MN, Steph spent 16 years as the co-founder and director of Positive Energy Outdoors, an outdoor education program in Duluth, Minnesota. Steph has an M.S. in Experiential Education from Minnesota State University, Mankato and a B.A. with Honors in English Literature from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. 

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.