When we first bought Camp Champions before the summer 1996, the camp had an orientation like the vast majority of camps back then. In fact, it was more of a “work session to prepare camp for opening” than an orientation. The counselors would arrive 3 days before camp, get trained in CPR, learn the camp rules and then perform physical tasks like painting and mowing.
We chose to change this pre-camp gathering. We made orientation a full week long, but decreased the amount of physical work required. In its place, we added sessions on cabin dynamics and child development. We utilized role-playing. We had interactive meetings designed to engage the counselors (rather than simply talking to them). We varied the speakers.
What we found is that our counselors were not only better trained, but more excited about the challenges of serving your children.
At this point, our 1 week orientation was on par with the best orientation programs in the country. We were pleased and proud. But we were not yet satisfied. We had some new ideas that we had talked about over time but could not fit into our current schedule. He had an idea: an 11-day orientation! (A friend of mine from Connecticut once said that the Texas motto must be “if some is good, more is better and too much is great!” While I do not subscribe to this in all things, it is a darn good way to develop counselors.)
We wanted to add the following:
* More sessions on our mission and how to make it true in every cabin
* Have the staff live on the same schedule that the campers will live on (under the old system, we needed to work later into each day, but the longer schedule provided more freedom)
* We spread out our sessions over more time so that they could absorb more information. As I mentioned before, we have increased the length to a full two weeks this year. I am confident that this made our already-good orientation even better.
* We brought in three experts from across the country (Chicago, Philadelphia area and North Carolina) to help us reinforce critical topics, ranging from finding what is lovable about every camper to tricky discipline challenges to camper emotional and physical safety.
Further, the longer period allowed each day to be a bit more relaxed, so that the staff started first term extremely excited to be with the campers rather than be slightly worn out from long days and long education sessions.
We also employ another feature to our counselor training – a series of on-line videos. These videos, created by some of the leading consultants in summer camping, are 15-20 minutes and very engaging. They cover certain topics that we consider particularly important, including bullying, clean communication, leadership and safety. Each video requires that the counselor complete a brief questionnaire to assure that s/he has retained the material. It might feel like over-kill, but we realize that repetition and variety result in much higher levels of retention and understanding.
It is a lot of work and not inexpensive, but we believe that it is an opportunity to show our counselors and our parents that we are absolutely committed to our mission to helping campers grow into Champions.