If School Was More Like Summer Camp

As the school year comes to a close, my mind can’t help but wander to the shores of Pleasant Lake where I spent 17 summers at Camp Arcadia, a traditional  sleep-away camp for girls ages 7-17 in Casco, Maine. May 1st was the beginning of my count down – only 50 more days to go! I would trek to the attic and get out my camp trunk and lug it back to my room. I can still vividly remember the feeling when I opened it up for the first time after being hidden away for the winter as I unleashed the excitement, possibilities, blissful happiness, friendships and laughter that were to come. With this small gesture, the countdown was on for returning to my summer ‘home’! Can you imagine if this was the attitude that school children had about going to school each year?

As a child, I was excited to return to camp each summer because it was, in a word, fun! I mean really; who wouldn’t want to spend seven weeks living with their closest friends doing the things they loved each and every day? It was an amazing gift I was blessed to receive. Reflecting back on my experiences at camp as an adult learner and elementary school principal however, I also marvel at the intangible life-lessons I learned there without even realizing it! It has often caused me to wonder, why can’t schools be more like summer camp?

What would a school look like if it were more like summer camp? Below, in italics are my take-aways from my camp experience. In bold is how I hope to replicate that in the school environment.

  • Counselors at Arcadia were people I trusted, looked up to and wanted to be like. Personal connections are built with adults who are excited about the craft of teaching and about young people.
  • Like other Arcadians, I believe it is my goal to make the world a better place because I have been in it. Core values shape the culture and are intangible life-long lessons.
  • Canoeing, swimming and campcraft were required. My passions were sailing, tennis, trips and canoeing. Outside of the core curriculum, students would be given the freedom to choose what they wanted to learn.
  • In the spring, I talked with my parents about my summer program. This was communicated to the camp and used to create my schedule. Learning is shaped by personal goals developed among parents, teachers and the student.
  • At weekly campfires, the camp community celebrated children who reached their goals. Milestones along the road to the goal are celebrated by the community.
  • I paddled the rapids of the St. Croix River and climbed to the top of Mt. Washington. Risk taking is encouraged in a safe environment.
  • Closing Candlelight, pictured above, is one of many traditions that campers across 96 years of history share. Traditions connect participants to past and future community members.
  • This past summer, at our 95th reunion, alumna old and young returned home to celebrate together! Members feel ownership in the community.
  • At Arcadia, even on rainy days, I knew a world of possibilities awaited me each day! Children would wake up every day excited to go to school.

Though I recognize that teaching children to read and to multiply is different than teaching a child how to sail or to paddle a canoe, I strongly believe that we can replicate the feeling of summer camps in our schools by building relationships and a strong school culture. We owe it to our children to provide the type of environment that will cause them to spend their summers counting down to opening day!


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Beth Wittcoff
    May 15, 2011 @ 12:47:42

    Some really great points Julie, What particularly resonated with me are your thoughts about building relationships. At Annie Sullivan we meet with 8th graders and their parents if they are experiencing difficulty in the last 8 weeks or so of school as one last support to extend as they get closer to high school. Below is an edited email a teacher got from a student who we met with on Thursday afternoon.

    “I sat with Sally on the bus on the way to Patriot Place today. I asked how things went after she and her mother left. She said they had a good laugh about her mom slipping and saying in front of Beth that she was “pissed off”, but when they got home they had a “long, deep” talk.

    Thanks for your presence yesterday. It just goes to show how deeply we, as a school, care about the success and well-being of our students. In so many other schools, Sally would have easily just slipped through the cracks. Today she came in with her journal entries for Mrs. Smith and had multiple review assignments in to me for today’s deadline.

    Field trip today was awesome- kids were fantastic! Have a nice weekend!”

    Emails like that make it all worthwhile.



  2. Oldschoolteach
    May 15, 2011 @ 21:43:13

    I love this idea! How great it would be if most of our students wanted to come to school! And it would be great if more teachers took the time to make it fun, while at the same time educating our students. These are 21st century students, we have to engage them!


  3. Frank Brande
    Jul 04, 2011 @ 10:26:45

    An idea worth sharing. I try to incorporate these thoughts as I can.


  4. joan mcgettigan
    Jul 10, 2011 @ 15:59:16

    Julie, I could not agree more! Each year my daughters return from Arcadia stronger, more independent, and oozing with confidence (not an easy accomplishment at this age). They are eager to return to school too . . . but to see their friends, not for the learning. Oh if only learning could be more fun mom! Well, why couldn’t it?


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