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Every summer, Berkshire Outdoor Center provides innovative four-week enrichment experiences for schools and school districts, with students ranging in age from 8-14. By partnering with schools, school districts and community governments, we are able to develop tailored community-based day camp programs, each with a mission to create future responsible youth leaders. Our summer leadership programs are for groups of between 30 and 100 students.
After the first two weeks of personal challenges and team building, the enrichment program’s focus shifts from individual growth and skill building to community issues. Students identify a real-life problem that has meaning to them and that is tied directly to their community, and develop a problem statement. They are then provided with the resources and space to learn about the issues, develop an action plan, and refine a solution. Their project culminates in a presentation by the students to parents, school officials and community leaders – a large audience, providing them the opportunity to show their solid problem-solving and public speaking skills. Importantly, they will have developed an awareness of social issues faced daily within their community, and will have spent four weeks working together in a team. Ultimately, they are developing civic-mindedness, which is empowering.
Since the individual’s participation in the community reinforces cohesion within society, the focus in promoting civic-mindedness and civic skills must be on enabling participation. This process starts with the available potential for civic engagement. Civic-mindedness and civic skills can evolve when the individual experiences the community as an enriching space for experience, negotiation and life-structuring.
Young people can especially be won over for civic engagement in the community when they have the leeway to act independently, on their own responsibility; when they can contribute their own abilities, interests and solutions to problems; and when the activity they participate in is fun and meaningful. In these situations, the individual is able to experience civic-mindedness as a medium for self-determination. (Bertelsmann Foundation & Group for Policy Research (2003). Civic Mindedness: Participation in Modern Society. Bertelsmann Foundation Publishers Guetersloh; p34)
BOC's Summer Leadership Programs work best when they are run in partnership with other entities. Currently, BOC runs Summer Leadership Programs in partnership with academic institutions and city governments. This blend of non-profit, academic and city institutions provides tremendous opportunities for the community. These are two examples of current programs:
Nessacus Regional Middle School
Forest Park Middle School
Pottenger Elementary School
In all of these examples, BOC works together with partners to design and implement the program, hire and train the staff, obtain an appropriate site within the city and secure the use of the school. Both BOC and the partners also collaborate in the supply of program equipment. Springfield College faculty provide support with program design and development, and evaluation.
When provided summer learning opportunities, students are more likely to retain English Language Arts and Mathematics skills learned in the prior school year. That is, academic summer programs help prevent summer learning loss. Students who participate in our summer leadership programs will not only retain these skills, but will make gains. Over time, these behaviors and the ability to “keep up” will help close the achievement gap, and result in stronger graduation rates.
Most students lose about two months of grade level equivalency in mathematical computation skills over the summer months. Low-income students also lose more than two months in reading achievement. (Cooper, H., Nye, B., Charlton, K., Lindsay, J., & Greathouse, S. (1996). The effects of summer vacation on achievement test scores: A narrative and meta-analytic review. Review of Educational Research, 66(3), pp227-268.
Students may be the first in their families or neighborhoods that have had the opportunity to participate in on-campus programs. Being exposed to this environment removes the mystique and gets students thinking of college as attainable. While some students do not need this exposure, others can benefit tremendously simply from being on campus. (This option is not available in all Urban Summer Leadership Programs - it depends on your school's geographic location and the proximity of a willing partner campus).
Instilling a love of learning and an interest in education at a young age can work wonders in increasing a child's motivation, and providing them with a direction for their lives. Above all it is important to make a college education seem accessible to all students. (College Prep for Children in Grades K-8 (2014). http://www.gocollege.com.
A huge component of all Berkshire Outdoor Center programs involves spending time outdoors. All the teambuilding and ropes course activities are performed outdoors and students spend at least a couple of hours each day of the program outside and active. These help keep students healthy and learn healthy behaviors. Additionally, learning by experiencing provides reinforcement of those skills learned.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that children get at least one hour of moderate-to-vigorous exercise every day, but few kids living in developed countries meet those guidelines. Schaefer, et al (2014) Outdoor Time Is Associated with Physical Activity, Sedentary Time, and Cardiorespiratory Fitness in Youth. Journal of Pediatrics 07/14.
Communicating effectively, building trust/trustworthiness, problem solving and managing, executing tasks efficiently, negotiating, taking responsibility and developing peace through understanding. Through hands-on experience, students develop self-esteem and self-confidence, independence, self-identity and stronger relationships, as well as the skills required to lead and participate in groups effectively.
Simply focusing on the community and trying to help students solve problems within that community emphasizes with students their role as part of a larger group of people. Awareness of social issues and of the complexities of finding solutions leads to students ‘caring’ about others.
To be able to function, democratic societies must rely on people with community-oriented skills, who trust one another and who take an interest both in one another and in the welfare of the community. Mutual interest and trust, together with shared goals and a variety of resources, result in commitment and involvement. People must have a sense that they have something at stake; they must become involved in social life in order to be integrated into society and help society cohere. The key to integration is participation. (Bertelsmann Foundation & Group for Policy Research (2003). Civic Mindedness: Participation in Modern Society. Bertelsmann Foundation Publishers Guetersloh; p9)
The staff structure includes a Director, Assistant Director, Counselors and Assistant Counselors.
A Director is designated as the “camp director” for the duration of the program and is available to communicate with parents, supervise staff and make decisions on daily issues. The Assistant Director provides backup logistical support with details such as paperwork and staff supervision.
Counselors are experienced professionals who are aged over 21 and have experience working with students at Berkshire Outdoor Center. They are experienced teambuilding and leadership development facilitators and have a degree in education, outdoor education, or are current students working towards a degree. They also function as mentors to Assistant Counselors for the duration of the program. They are first aid/CPR trained.
Assistant Counselors are new professionals in the field, who are aged 18 and over. They have experience working with youth, although this experience may be limited to non-employment experience. They are assigned a counselor who functions as their mentor and works with them for the duration of the program.
During training, staff work together to tailor a program based on the client’s request of student outcomes. The program is also tailored based on student bios, previous experience, as well as site and community strengths and limitations.
During week 1, teams spend time learning about one another. They work together to solve increasingly complex team problems, utilizing our portable low ropes elements and other features at the site. Staff develop a full value contract for behavior with each of the participants and they debrief all activities such that students are developing comprehensive communication skills, leadership skills and trust. This week will also include a field trip to a challenge course either nearby or at Berkshire Outdoor Center to expose students to safe risk-taking, confidence building activities.
During weeks 2 & 3, the teams move to identifying problems within their community, creating problem statements, then working together to develop solutions to those problems. Examples include:
Students will use a university campus library and computer lab to research their projects and work on PowerPoint presentations. Using their skills of working together as a team, they will create a presentation.
Students will finalize their work then present their community problems and solutions to parents, families and community members who are invited to see the presentations.
Includes all staff and programs.
Does not include meals or site rental.
Partnerships may result in rate-reductions, depending on what the partners can cover with funding or in-kind donation.
The 4 week program costs $800 per student. Additional weeks may be provided at $200 per student, per week. Often, we obtain grants to help subsidize program costs. Financial assistance may be available.