When you think of the summer program that you signed up for, think about why you registered for it. Your answer may label the skills you signed up to acquire, like Basketball, French, Cooking, Business and more. While I don’t have a Masters or a PhD, I have been involved in camp and summer programs for my entire life. From day camp, Tennis camp, travel programs and sleep-away camp to being an instructor, counselor, senior staff member and director, I could say that I have seen it all. If I said that, however, it wouldn’t be true because the beauty of being a part of a camp or summer program is that you learn something new every day. I can tell you that when you sign up for something like basketball, you get so much more! The parts you can’t possibly register for are the parts that mean the most.
The first time I went away from home for a summer, I was nine years old and I went by myself. Yes, my parents signed me up and yes, my parents packed for me and yes - my parents drove me there, but when they left, I was on my own. This was before cell phones and before computers were portable, so I was forced to practice the art of talking to other people and negotiating my way through relationships that I was making in real time. I was also learning how to take care of myself, how to make my bed and how to motivate myself to get my day going and much more. I was learning how to be independent. Overnight (yes I mean overnight), I found myself growing beyond what I imagined possible.
This is that word that no child likes to hear, but let me tell you why it was a good thing. The more I learned to discipline myself, the less my parents and others had to discipline me. I don’t mean punishing myself when I did something wrong. Instead, I mean that I taught myself how to wake up on time, try my hardest, practice if I wanted to improve at something, rest, be serious when it was needed and letting loose when it was appropriate. Finally, going to bed at a time that would allow me to do this all over again the next day, was a very valuable lesson. I learned all of these things from camp and my parents would attest, it made raising me a lot easier for both of us.
Communication is a skill learned in school, but perfected everywhere else. When you go away to camp or a summer program, you live in a world where person to person communication is more important than anywhere else in a young person’s life. Not only do we learn how to get along with others, but we learn how to disagree. Even more important than this, is the fact that we learn to advocate for ourselves – to speak up when we disagree with something. When I think about all of the times that I have spoken up or made an unpopular decision because I thought it was the right one, I think about the times when I resolved an issue with another camper, another staff member or a supervisor. These communication skills are the skills that will carry you through life.
My network is what it is because of my summers away. I feel that the world feels a lot smaller than it actually is because I have made incredible friends and contacts from many different countries. At JKCP, we are able to say that we have students from over 40 countries. We employ incredible staff members from many of those countries as well. It is because of the experience every JKCP student will have with other students and staff from all over the world that they will feel that the world is so small when they grow up. In a world with social media and easy travel, that is a valuable tool to gain.
The first four take-aways are important, but ultimately, they will help you achieve this one. Through becoming independent, teaching yourself discipline, learning to communicate and expanding your network, you begin to shape the type of person you are going to become. By meeting people from all over the world, you gain perspective. By learning to communicate with those people, you understand that perspective. By teaching yourself discipline, you learn to respect others’ perspective. And, by being independent, you encourage yourself to continue to do this for the rest of your life.
All of these things help to make us the people who we eventually become. While my friends were at home, playing basketball in the front yard and going to the park behind our neighborhood, I went to camps and other summer programs. I met people from all over the world and I shaped an identity that I am proud of. The students who join us this summer and in the future are making the same commitment to themselves. The students who spend their summer at a JKCP program are not only signing up to learn a skill that they register for, but are signing up to learn how to be successful in life. Who knew that camp could teach you so much?