Breakthrough Study from American Camp Association Outlines the Benefits of Camp Experience
2020-2022 Camp Program Quality Initiative
Specifically, this project was focused on building systems that support program quality assessment and continuous improvement. For this project, ACA partnered with the Forum for Youth Investment’s David P. Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality (Weikart Center) to identify the features of a quality camp experience, then design systems that support camps in their ongoing efforts to improve these features through continuous quality improvement.
The systems of focus for this project included: 1) a peer-led system of program quality assessment and coaching; 2) a community-of-practice approach to knowledge sharing among camp professionals; and 3) new continuous improvement workbooks to support camps in learning and training, connecting, and practicing continuous quality improvement.
The Weikart Center was a key partner in this project, and in our ongoing Camp Program Quality efforts. For over a decade, the Weikart Center’s program quality assessment tools and supports have been used to build continuous improvement systems in youth-serving organizations across the country and internationally. Other contributors include American Institutes of Research, the University of Utah, and several volunteer committees of camp professionals to ensure the work is accessible and relevant across a vast and diverse camp community.
Camp Program Quality Initiative 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 Hall, Director and Senior Research Scientist with the National Institute on Out-of-School Time
- Josh Phillips, Chief Executive Officer with Change Summer
- Leslie Gabay-Swanston, Director of Program and Systems Quality for Summer Learning
- Mary Rogers, Executive Director Emeritus for Sherwood Forest, ACA National Board Member, CARE Member
- Sandy Weaver, Penn State University, National Standards Commission
- Shauna Guglielmo, Camp Programs Coordinator for the Lincoln Park Zoo
- Tim Nowak
Camp Program Quality Initiative 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.
Tools for Continuous Improvement
We hope you’ll join us in conceptualizing our work serving youth in a way that fosters inclusivity and growth and creates higher quality programs to deliver experiences that enrich campers’ lives no matter their background.
We strive to improve all year, every year, by engaging in a continuous improvement cycle. This cycle is comprised of four steps: Prepare, Assess, Plan, and Improve. Think of this cycle as a power strip, the backbone of our work. A power strip allows for multiple different energy-supported elements to be plugged in. now, if we conceptualize the sustainable outcomes of our special projects as different elements to be plugged into the continuous improvement power strip, we can continuously improve the way we serve youth and the way we support camps in serving youth.
This approach to our special projects and research allows us to learn along the way and to be responsive to what we learn from the experiences of those who engage with us. It also situates ACA in a position to provide support sustainably and continuously for camps and professionals who want to plug into this work.
Camp Program Quality
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.
All programs regardless of their size, experience, and accreditation status can improve. Continuous program 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.
Continuous Program Quality Improvement
Improvement of program quality at ACA is not linear—it isn’t easily accomplished for an organization as a checklist. Instead, our program quality work is inspired and framed by continuous improvement. Through a supported , annual cycle of Prepare-Assess-Plan-Improve, camp programs can sustainably integrate continuous program quality improvement into their internal systems and cultures.
Because of the ongoing and subjective nature of this work, ACA has systems of support to ensure camps of all types can engage in each step of the continuous program quality improvement cycle 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.
Community of Practice
Anyone is welcome to join the Community of Quality Practice. It is an open space for those who have been trained and have already integrated continuous quality improvement into their programs or are new to program quality improvement. This space is for Community of Quality Practice members to discuss how quality is showing up in their programs, what improvements they are making, and to connect with each other. Ideally, this community will turn into a space that is member driven. Our Program Quality Community of Practice convenes monthly from September – April each fiscal year.
Program Quality Community of Practice
Our Continuous Improvement: Organizational Quality Improvements and Continuous Improvement: Improving the Youth Experience workbooks are standalone resources that can be handed directly to camp and youth serving practitioners. Each workbook is intended to be interactive and offer opportunities for readers to engage with sections as needed.
Purchase the individual workbooks:
Creating Inclusive Camps
The Creating Inclusive Camps tool is designed to help you and your camp identify the work you already do to make your camp an inclusive space. It does this by supporting you in identifying where you are on a five-stage scale of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) advancement.
As we scale up our internal supports for camp program quality, we are also providing trainings to support continued work on quality improvement for camps. Trainings are currently offered in collaboration with the Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality. If you’re interested in getting involved with camp program quality, please email programquality@ACAcamps.org.