Monday, August 2, 2010

Why I Camp

Warning: This is a non-tech post, but contains material about education and leadership.

I just spent the past week in Albion, Michigan working with Student Council and National Honor Society students from all over the state. The Michigan Association of Student Councils and Honor Societies (MASC/MAHS) sponsors a weak long event for student leaders to come to camp and work on their leadership skills to create a better environment at their school and in the community. I work at the HS camp and it contains three levels. Level 1 is for 1st year campers regardless of age/grade level. I work with level 1 students and I love it. Enough about the background and more about "Why I camp".

I'm often asked by my friends why I spend a week of my summer surrounded my high school kids a month before I surround myself with high schools kids for a month. Most assume it is for the money, but that is far from the case. The amount of money I get paid barely covers the money I send to buy decorations and things for my camp council room. The longer I do this, the less stuff I will have to buy, but right now, I'm breaking even. Like all things regarding education, I don't do it for the money.

I do it because I'm a teacher. It is a chance for me to reach out beyond my district and make an impact on students from all over the state. I don't have to worry about  my English curriculum for a week. I get to play games that are designed to build stringer leaders. I get to sit and have meaningful discussions with students about what a leader is and how they have the power to change the culture of their school and their community.  I get to work with some of the most amazing people I know.

Us techie people often talk about the amazing school we could form if the PLN joined forces. If the camp staff of MASC/MAHS joined forces, we would create an equally strong school of learners and leaders. I get to be surrounded by students that are passionate about change. I also get to be surrounded by other teachers that are passionate about the same things I am as well. All to often we get bogged down at work and feel very isolated about the things we are passionate about. Only a few people in my building are passionate about making better leaders out of our students and that is very sad to me. Camp offers me the opportunity to work with students and staff that all believe in the same goal and are passionate about making it happen.

I had a council of 24 students and 1 Junior Counselor (JC). The all came from very different walks of life and were very unsure of what to expect from camp. I get to introduce myself as Nick and act informally as we discuss the great thing we are going to learn this week. I sometimes wish that school could be as informal and relaxed. The kids seemed to learn just fine without high stakes testing. #JustSayin

We spend the next week doing activities, singing songs, eating awesome food and discussing the finer points of leadership. As teachers we love to see those light bulb moments in our class when a student gets a concept they have been struggling to understand. The theme from the novel that has been alluding suddenly makes sense and it is awesome to see it happen in front of you. At camp, there are light bulb moments all over the place. What makes these moments extra special is that the students now understand a little better what it means to be a leader and can use that to make a difference. Those moments will never leave me.

Level 2 has students work on personal goals. It's great to see students take time to look inside and see how they can become a better person, student and leader. They also do something called Passion to Action. They select something they are passionate about and work with other students to formulate a plan to help. One passion could be child obesity. The kids would get together and think of ways they can fight this problem. At the end of the week, they present their passions to the entire camp and everyone has an opportunity to talk to kids and exchange information. To see kids passionate about changing the world really warms my soul.

I want to talk about the JCs for a moment. Each Senior Counselor (SC) is assigned a JC. These kids are former campers and current college students. They help the SC with the lessons and activities throughout the day. They sing camp songs at all of the meals and generally keep the kids motivated all week. They are up early (7am) and up late (2am) working on their jobs for the next day and other camp duties. These are college students that choose to spend a week with HS students during their summer. One girl was actually taking summer classes and was commuting between camp and school so she could help out. "Limp", you are an angel! These JCs are some of the most amazing people you could ever meet. Most of them are going into education this is great experience for them. Others just love what camp represents and want to be part of the student's life. My JC was simply amazing over the course of the week. It was her first year as a JC, but she kicked serious butt! The kids loved her and chanted her name during meals and was ready to deal with any problems that came up. The kids were drawn to her instantly and it made for a better council because of it. She is going into Elementary Education and she is going to be a hell of a teacher.To all of the JCs, I want to thank you for your dedication to this great program. You prove to all of the teachers that what we are doing is worth it. You make a difference in the campers lives and should be proud of that fact. We are proud to be your SCs.

At the end of camp we get out warm fuzzy bags. Warm fuzzies are notes that campers write to each other and pace in a bag they make at the start of camp. JCs and SCs write ones for all of their campers and the staff. My JC scrapped booked mine as a present. (Seriously, it made me tear up) These warm fuzzies are generally thanks you for a fun week and keep in touch info. I love keeping these notes and going over them when I have a bad teaching day. They remind me that it  is possible to reach students and make a difference. That is why I teach.Twitter acts a little like Warm Fuzzies at times. Schools would be so much better if every student got to have a Warm fuzzy bag in the classroom.

By the end of camp, we are all tired and ready to go home, but the first thing most of us do when we get home is change our Facebook status to, "51 weeks until camp. :-("

Purple Lightning!

This is a video I filmed of a council talking about camp. They planned the entire video.

At the end of every night we hold tranquility. It a chance to relax before bed and a good way to focus after a day of learning.


  1. Another awesome post! - Just curious, at anytime do they share their definition of a good leader? If so, what do they say?

  2. Wow, what an amazing experience. Your post makes me think - why can't everyday school be more like this camp? Students setting their own goals, student-to-student mentoring, relaxed, fun, and motivating. Teahers are guiding forces that are passionate about helping students reach their goals. I think we can take a lot of lessons from your camp experience.

  3. So neat! The videos are awesome. It is always amazing to watch those walls of self consciousness fall and kids being proud of who they are. Incredible things could happen if every student had the camp experience. And why shouldn't school look more like this? I vote for camp school.
    Go purple lightening!


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