Summer Camps and Group Dynamics: The Importance of Isolation


♪ [opening music] ♪>>Rose Sink: Alright. Hello
my name is Rose Sink and I am representing Dr.
Chess’ LANG 120 class. And I would just like to thank
Dr. Chess and Leslee Johnson and every single one of you for the
opportunity to turn what was a research paper into something
a little bit more than that. I’ll be talking about summer
camps and group dynamics and the role that isolation
plays in both of those. And I was inspired to do this
topic because – from one line of Judith Shulevitz’The Sabbath
World
and that is the book that we read as a class. And in this book Shulevitz
discusses the capital “S” religious observance
kind of sabbath, and the lower case “s” maybe
just not checking your email for a whole weekend kind of sabbath. Essentially both just require
devoting an amount of time towards something that
you might not usually do. In turn, there is greater time
for self-reflection and just growing your community. So the actual line that inspired
me I’ll read in full: “The value of camps for indoctrination
lay in their isolation, in their being cultural islands,
which allowed them to create alternate societies without
interference from the dominant society.” And when I first read
this, I just had to stop, because she so beautifully puts
into words something that I have been trying to define
for most of my life. You see when she says “camps”
she is referencing summer camps, and this top image – I’m the one
in the middle standing up and I’m 6 years old. It’s my first summer
at a summer camp. Had the straight across bangs. And then from 6 to 14,
I grew up at that camp, the bangs went away thank
goodness, and then the past 3 summers I have worked
there as a canoe instructor. And what she puts into words is
what my co-workers and I call “the real world”, because
working at a summer camp you really do feel that you’re in
an entirely different world and I’ll try to summarize that. It would take a million pictures
to show you what camp life is actually like, but
I’ll try with these 4. The image in the upper-left
hand corner is of our executive director and he spends the most
time with the outside world but he also spends a lot of
time on the tire swing. He leads climbing
trips and paddling trips. You start to know what day of
the week it is by if you’re going to the pool or the lake
or if you are going hiking. You are constantly
surrounded by nature. You probably smell like
campfires and sweat and it’s really difficult to fit into
the really demanding dress code of camp life. It’s either athletic or like,
tacky but then tackier than that and when this is all you know,
it’s – you feel so isolated from what’s outside that and this
becomes blatantly obvious on Fridays, which is when
our campers go home, and as a staff we go out to eat.
I’m sure we turn a few heads. We probably still
look a little bit tacky, probably smell bad, but
essentially when you go out into the real world and you’ve
been isolated from it, you’re just like a sponge trying
to absorb all this information like what movies have come out? I can’t name a single movie
that came out this summer. I just have no concept of that. So that lead me to the larger
idea that maybe if I’m spending all of my days on the river,
instructing mostly good campers down some pretty
nice whitewater, and hauling their butts
out of the whitewater, which, like, that’s at least the
second most important thing that I do and the second most
frequent thing that I do, maybe my summer camp experience
could also be a sabbath experience because I’m obviously
building a community and I do have that time for
self reflection. So I just wanted to look into
that in my research paper, however there’s obviously
no research that says like: summer camp equals sabbath. So I did what Shulevitz often
does and I just looked into the history of summer camps and
the observable effects that they have on the people
who experience them. So I started with the origin of
studies on group dynamics and this arose with social group
work in the 50s and 60s, which essentially says that:
different styles of leadership make different group dynamics. So if I was yelling
at all of you, you’d probably be
pretty jumpy, right? And I looked at 2 social
psychologists: Muzafer Sherif and Kurt Lewin and
they did cool studies, but what really matters is
that they were able to do those studies by using summer camps. They were 2 of the first people
to study group dynamics because it’s so hard to subject a group
to the experimental process. So they were able to do this
because summer camps can be so easily manipulated to
produce desired outcomes. So thinking about that: it’s
pretty cool if you’re a social psychologist, but that’s also
really cool if you’re a summer camp, or the American
Camp Association, which accredits hundreds of
summer camps across the country. And essentially they have a
mission to foster camper’s growth and development. And they did this study
between 2001 and 2004 titled, “Youth Development Outcomes
of the Camp Experience.” And they did this
to see, you know, what actually are the effects
of summer camps on kids? And how can summer camps as a
whole better reach the kids that they are trying to help,
like trying to help grow? So they looked at 4 large
developmental categories which are highlighted in yellow
and all of these saw large improvement and that improvement
was sustained 6 months after the camp experience. And then they also looked at 10
subcategories and I believe 9 of those also saw that
same sustained growth. However it was really
interesting because stuff like the experience of the directing
staff or the experience of the counselor didn’t really matter
with the growth of the child. So what did matter was specific
programming that directly targets some of these topics. So my camp is religiously
affiliated and therefore would see a higher growth
in spirituality. My camp is also an overnight
camp and in general those had better scores with physical
and thinking skills. So this is great for camps
because they’re able to see, “Okay, we want to make
kids better leaders . We should have some sort
of program that directly addresses that.” But it’s also great for parents
because if you specifically want your child to grow
in a certain way, you can check with different
summer camps and see if they have a program to do that. Lastly, as a country we send
millions of kids to summer camps each summer, however,
a lot of them are not financially accessible. So if so many kids are
going to summer camp, and those kids are being
positively impacted by it, if we start seeing camps as
something essential for the development of a child maybe
as a society we can level the playing field and try to get
everyone to have that same positive impact. And I also just want to ask all
of you to look at your own life and think about something that
you might do that could also be considered a sabbath experience
and try to give that the attention that it deserves.
Thank you. [applause] Yeah?>>[audience member]: Yeah,
you talked about a lot of the studies and stuff
that were done. Were there any direct
results that you found? Like say a kid
went for, you know, leadership skills or they were
a little bit too shy and were trying to develop
their social skills. In your findings did you
have any direct results that came out of that? Like a child that was observed
in one of these studies, like what was the result? Like when he went back to school
or went back to the family?>>Rose: Well this study, it
used camper surveys but it also used parent surveys. So the parents were sent a
separate survey 6 months after the camp experience
where they would, you know, fill out on a chart
how they think their child is doing. I’m sure that there
are studies like that, but the one I looked
at was very general. Does that answer your question?>>[audience member]: Not
entirely but I understand why. [laughs]>>Rose: Sorry.>>[audience member]: Thank you.>>Rose: Any more?
Okay. Thank you. [applause] ♪ [closing music] ♪ ♪ [closing music] ♪

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