Lessons From Camp

  • Photo of David

    The trees are turning color and greeting the arrival of autumn with a shake of their knotty branches, dropping leaves along the way.

    I am always sad to see summer bid farewell. These past few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity speak with staff and students about their summer soirees. For most, it was a time for recharging the battery, exploring the world around them, reflecting on past successes and looking forward to new challenges. I know that many Island Park students enjoyed family trips, visits to the library, taking up hobbies, enrolling in lessons or going to summer camp.
    Is there anything more emblematic of kids and summer than camp? I would like to say that I was born with a canteen in mouth and tent pole in hand, but such was not the case. My parents first sent me to camp upon completion of fourth grade—entirely against my wishes. And, while Camp Esther K. Newman, located near Nebraska’s flat Platt River, was an hour or so from my home, it was light years away from my independent comfort zone.
    My homesick laden correspondence must have read something like this: Dear Mom and Dad: Why did you send me to this penitentiary? I am starving and wasting away---nothing but peanut butter and bug juice. I hate my counselor. He tells corny jokes and calls me Buddy. No one likes me --including the horses. It is soooo boring: nothing to do but canoeing, arts and crafts, sports, making new friends and … No T.V.!
    Dear David: So glad to hear you are enjoying camp. We are so proud of you of your new independence.
    Dear Mom and Dad: I finally figured out that I must not be your son. No loving parents would send their child to an outdoor prison infested with snakes, ticks and mosquitoes. If you rescue me NOW, I may eventually forgive you.
    Dear David: Glad we sent you to such a fantastic camp. Enjoy the care package and be sure to share with all your friends and great counselor. P.S. What a perfect opportunity to overcome your fear of snakes!
    During my first year at camp, Sam Friedman, another orphaned sad sack, and I devised an elaborate plan to escape from Esther K.’s confines. We filled pages of camp stationery with maps, secret codes and supply lists that outlined our plan for breaking free. Preparations included hiding a canoe in the bulrushes where, under the cover of night, we would become Lewis and Clark and paddle our way to Fort Home. Boy would our parents be surprised when we showed up at their doorsteps, Rambo-like, with mud on our faces, bulging muscles from hours of rowing and attitudes that screamed: nothing can keep us away from our warm beds and bottomless bowels of Lucky Charms.
    Unfortunately, we neglected to take into consideration that Esther K. Newman’s lake was entirely landlocked with no water egress to the outside world. Despite my fits of homesickness (never mind that my numerous siblings and cousins were at camp with me) and U-haul-at-night-phobia (the irrational fear the your parents will move away while you are at camp and neglect to share their new address), each summer, until I got a job in high school, someone sewed identification labels onto my belongings, over-packed my trunk with clothes that would never be worn (seriously, who wears a winter coat during the summer in Nebraska?) and shipped me off to camp.
    Not surprisingly, I grew to love camp despite the fact that there were years when I came home with chicken pox (oops-just a severe case of insect bites), strep throat, walking pneumonia or sans underwear (another story for another time).
    It’s interesting to note that this complaining camper grew up to become a camp counselor, the director of a counselors-in-training program, head counselor, camp business director and camp program director before he finally hung up his well-worn duffle bag. I know that my love of working with kids stems, in large part, from my years at camp.
    I share a slice of my own summer shenanigans with you because they offer some valuable lessons that will assist you and your child in having a successful school year, now and in the future.
    Like camp, when we send children to school we are letting them know, in a loving way, that we trust that they possess and will gain additional skills to be knowledgeable, thoughtful, curious, engaged, and independent beings. It is part of the thrilling journey that will allow them to have a comfortable, meaningful and productive life.
    The journey does not come without bumps in the road or annoying mosquitoes buzzing in the ears. There will be days when your child complains that his teacher is unfair, or that her best friend has turned turncoat. You may hear a variety of school-related “B” words at the dinner table: boring, bullying, or backbreaking work. Like the tone of my parents’ camp postcards, it is important to acknowledge your child’s concerns, but to respond in ways that are respectful of the school, a staff member or another child. In turn, send a positive message by asking about all the great things going on at school. When we listen, seek clarity and communicate kindly, issues are more easily resolved to the satisfaction of all involved.
    Additionally, our kids are the products of our expectations. High expectations—high performance. My parents knew that by sending me to camp, I would have the chance to, metaphorically speaking, conquer my fear of snakes. Their message was: you will triumph.
    At school, the words and actions communicated to our impressionable students reflect the expectations we have for their future successes: “You will get to school on time, you will be prepared for class, you are capable, you will treat others respectfully, you do possess the tools to solve problems appropriately, and you may not always get what you want, but you will survive and grow from the experience.”
    Similarly, staff expectations may include: “You are capable of producing quality work. You will meet or surpass grade level expectations. You have much to contribute to the classroom and I know that you will. You have greatness inside of you to make good behavior choices. I know you will welcome my assistance and guidance, and I too will welcome your amazing ideas.”
    With these thoughts in mind, I look forward to a stellar year of growth for your child. I am so glad you are part of the larger Island Park family. It truly remains an honor and privilege for me to be the instructional leader of this great learning community.
    I know that if we coordinate our efforts on behalf of all learners, collaborate in ways that solve challenges, and calibrate our high expectations, we will all stay happy campers.
    Happy trails.         

    David Hoffman, Principal
    Island Park Elementary