Why You Should Incorporate Academic Enrichment Into Your Programs

ACTIVE Network
July 16, 2020

COVID-19 has done a number on everyone’s plans. Most businesses never planned to go fully virtual. Most schools didn’t plan that their in-person classes would end at spring break. Most parents never planned to take on the added role of classroom teacher.  

And now, this 2020 theme of expecting the unexpected is extending to summer camps. For both the campers and the camp workers, summer camp is supposed to be a time of fun and play and relaxation. But most camp organizers are realizing that this summer isn’t going to be like other summers.

In a post on the American Camp Association website, Bill Hughes writes about an informal survey he completed with a small number of camp organizers. While some of his respondents said that they planned to move forward with camp business as usual, most of them knew that there were going to have to be changes.

For some, that meant taking the camp experience completely virtual. For others it meant a hybrid approach. But what most could agree on was that no matter what format the camp itself actually took, one thing was going to have to change. This summer is not going to be about just fun; it’s also going to be about helping reinforce some of the academic lessons that may have been missed in the second half of the school year.

“The #1 need for help this summer is academic enrichment,” Hughes writes. “... it seems clear that [these camp organizers] understand that, at the heart of this summer is not unplugging and letting loose—things that may be, in fact, prohibited in places—but the need to lean into a summer of learning, remediation, and advancement." 

“I believe the camps that embrace this unwelcome but essential mission might have the greatest impact on families ,provide the most memorable experiences for kids, and do the country a great service in the process. In 2020, camps can enable an essential academic reset and reboot that many of our kids need from kindergarten up. Their intellectual development has been put at risk, and the less resilient are particularly vulnerable to losing ground, making future academic years a steeper climb.”

While we don’t want to be prescriptive about what a new summer curriculum should look like, we do have a couple of things you should keep in mind if you’re going to be one of those camps that, as Hughes puts it, embraces this essential mission.

Consider shifting your staffing to include more people with educational backgrounds.

For those community based organizations running camps, consider finding volunteers who have some level of professional teaching experience. Like the Wallace Foundation reminds us:

“Many summer program staff are college students, volunteers, or entry‐level youth workers without an education background and with a greater need to rely on curriculum and professional development to provide them with the skills needed to do their job. The lack of professional standards for out‐of‐school time or summer staff leaves most workers without the kind of comprehensive training and ongoing professional development they need to provide high quality experiences for young people.”

Understandably, when the focus of the camp curriculum is more on play and outdoor skills, a younger staff that can keep up with a camp full of kids is ideal. But, at least for this summer, it may be better if you were to bring in at least some staff that is comfortable in a more classroom-like environment.

This is still camp, so make it fun.

There are plenty of summer camps that are academically focused. Look to them to see how they keep their kids engaged and entertained while also making sure they are still being educated. Just because we are talking about academic enrichment, that doesn’t mean that students can’t still enjoy themselves. As this post on the Julian Krinsky Camps and Programs website points out:

“Even though you spend time learning, summer enrichment programs excel at teaching in a way that is engaging, fun and exciting. A good enrichment program understands that it is summer vacation—students do not want to be doing homework all night and studying for tests. Instead, they expose students to subjects they are excited about and give them motivation to continue learning about them even after the program ends.”

Set yourself up for success.

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