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Linetta S.A. Ballew
28 February 2007
Curriculum Design Project
Brethren Woods Camp and Retreat Center is located in Keezletown, VA and is owned and operated by the Shenandoah District of the Church of the Brethren. The mission of this outdoor ministry center is “to provide Christian educational opportunities, facilities, and programs for all ages in an inviting woodland setting; encouraging the formation of Christ-centered living, leadership, and stewardship of creation leading toward wholeness in the kingdom of God.”
The camp, which was started in 1958, has expanded from its early efforts to include a full year-round schedule, but the keystone of its program remains the summer camping program for children and youth. Each summer over 700 campers attend a day, half-week, or full week camping experience at Brethren Woods. Campers participate in on and off-site adventures including swimming, nature, crafts, Bible study, canoeing, tubing, rock climbing, caving, horseback riding, and more. Throughout their experience, campers are guided by staff members and volunteers.
Each summer, Brethren Woods hires approximately 20 full-time summer staff members who serve alongside the almost 100 volunteers that serve for varying amounts of time. Because of the enormous responsibility and huge importance of their task, the staff play an extremely crucial role in the success, safety, and enjoyment of the camping experience. For this reason, the training that the staff and volunteers receive is extremely important in order to prepare them for serving in this setting.
This curriculum design project seeks to examine the 10-day staff training that takes place at Brethren Woods each summer, and to consider new and innovative ways to enhance this educational opportunity in order to promote greater learning and growth for staff. The project relies heavily on the curriculum design suggestions and twelve principles for effective adult education as outlined by Jane Vella in her book, Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach. The impact of this project goes well beyond a seminary course assignment and reflects my work to plan and prepare for our 2007 staff training at Brethren Woods, which I am responsible for planning and leading as part of my role as Program Director there.
The 20 full-time staff members that are hired each summer and the numerous volunteers that serve at Brethren Woods come from various backgrounds and with a variety of experience. Some are returning staff members who have already served at camp before. They bring past experiences and a sense of the camp’s history and tradition. Others were once campers at Brethren Woods and are familiar with the camp program but are in a new role as a staff person instead of a camper. Still others come from outside the Brethren Woods community but have experience at another camp, as a camper or staff member, or experience in outdoor living skills. And still others have little to no previous camping experience but bring a love for the Lord and for sharing Jesus with children and youth in an outdoor setting.
Almost all of the hired summer staff are Caucasian, college-age, young adults from the United States. Usually most of them are from Virginia or attend a college or university nearby in the Harrisonburg area. Volunteers are also predominantly Caucasian and from the Shenandoah District, but they vary in age from youth and young adults to older adults. We do make an effort to hire some Latino, African, and/or Asian staff each summer, usually through an international camp counselor association.
As explained briefly in the introduction, camp staff members play an extremely crucial role in the success, safety, and enjoyment of the camp experience. Cabin counselors care for campers from the time their parents/guardians bring them to camp until the moment they are picked up. Staff members lead campers in outdoor activities that carry a fair amount of risk, including options like swimming, canoeing, rock climbing, tubing, horseback riding, caving, and transporting campers, and staff are responsible to safely lead and teach these activities. Camp staff also care for campers’ spiritual and emotional needs during the camping experience. In this role, staff assist campers as they grow in their relationship with Jesus, provide support and encouragement to try new things and stretch themselves, and serve as a caring adult role model who genuinely cares and listens. It is these staff members (at their best!) that can help children find a love and appreciation for God’s creation, develop the skills of cooperation, teamwork, and leadership, and encourage the formation of Christ-centered living in their lives. For all of these reasons (and many more!) staff training is extremely important in helping to prepare staff for their summer of service. It is also a requirement of the American Camping Association that accredits our camp.
Staff training is scheduled for June 6-15, 2007. This time frame is directly before the first week of camp (starting June 17) and is well after college students will be finished with classes. Because some staff members may still be in high school or graduating from high school, this time frame will allow most of them to attend the majority of the staff training. In past years this has been an issue because the staff training started at the end of May and so many high school students missed large sections of the training and some ended up feeling disconnected from the other staff.
Volunteer staff members will have a weekend training session in the midst of the summer staff training. These volunteers arrive on Friday evening, June 8 th and stay through Sunday afternoon, June 10 th. This provides the opportunity for most volunteers, who may be working or are otherwise occupied during the week, to attend the training. The overlap of volunteer training with the regular staff training is very beneficial because it allows staff and volunteers the chance to get to know one another, to share ideas and experiences, and to develop a common vision for the summer.
Staff training is held primarily on-site at Brethren Woods. This provides staff with an opportunity to become familiar with the grounds and facilities where they will be serving throughout the summer. It also helps to develop a sense of pride and ownership in the camp so that they feel a part of the ongoing ministry there. Some activities do take staff off-site (for canoeing or tubing adventures, for example), but these sites are the same as those that will be used with campers during the summer when they also participate in those adventures. This allows staff the opportunity to familiarize themselves with these locations prior to the campers’ arrival so that they can feel confident and prepared to lead.
The Outdoor Ministry Committee that serves as the “camp board” at Brethren Woods has developed thirteen objectives for staff training. I understand these as a starting point for the “what for” that may be modified following the opportunity to do a needs assessment with the OMC at our next meeting and with summer staff members (see Learning Needs and Resources Assessment below).
In general, the content of staff training includes risk management, camp policies and procedures, staff roles and responsibilities, camper characteristics, outdoor living skills, adventure experiences, spiritual growth and formation, and group/team building. For more specifics, see the Training Outline in the appendix.
A wide variety of methods and principles will be used throughout the 10-day training. Most importantly, we need to teach in such a way that the learners (staff) are able to see and experience the methods we hope they will implement during the summer camp program. If we really believe that there is value in teaching in an outdoor ministry setting through hands-on experiences and want the staff to teach campers in that way, we must use similar methods for their own training. This helps them to see the effectiveness of teaching in this way so that they will embrace those methods for their own teaching. For more specifics on how teaching will take place and learning events will be structured, see Incorporating Twelve Principles for Effective Adult Learning below and the Training Outline in the appendix.
Vella sets forth twelve principles from her years of teaching in various settings that have proven to make adult learning more effective. In this section, I list each of these principles and provide examples of how each will be incorporated into the design of the staff training curriculum and into the implementation of teaching. The Training Outline in the appendix puts these principles into practice in terms of how the training will be structured and its preliminary content.
LEARNING NEEDS AND RESOURCES ASSESSMENT
SEQUENCE AND REINFORCEMENT
LEARNERS AS DECISION MAKERS
LEARNING WITH IDEAS, FEELINGS, AND ACTIONS
ASSUMING NEW ROLES FOR DIALOGUE
As I plan and prepare for this summer’s staff training, Jane Vella’s design steps and principles for effective adult education provide ideas and methods that can enhance the training and make it more effective as staff prepare to serve during summer camp.
Beker, Jerome et al. What Do I Do Now?: Challenges and Choices for Camp Counselors and Other Youth Leaders. American Camping Association. 1996.
Brandwein, Michael. Training Terrific Staff: A Handbook of practical and creative tools for camps. American Camp Association. 1999.
Ditter, Bob. Trail Signs and Compass Points: A Staff Resource Manual. Little Fox Productions. Boston, MA. 1997.
Eshbach, Theresa and Nancy Knepper. Strength to Lead, Faith to Follow. Brethren Press. 1978.
“Objectives for Staff Training.” On-file at Brethren Woods.
Sow Seeds, Trust the Promise: Leadership Development Notebook for Outdoor Ministry National Council of Churches. 1983.
Staff training materials and outlines from past summers. On-file at Brethren Woods.
Vella, Jane. Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach: The Power of Dialogue in Educating Adults. Jossey-Bass. 2002.
Jane Vella’s book provides definitions and theoretical basis that undergirds her design process and also her twelve principles for effective adult education.
From “Objectives of Staff Training.” Document is on-file at Brethren Woods Camp & Retreat Center.
Michael Brandwein’s book Training Terrific Staff provides excellent material on staff training methods, designing staff training as a whole, and outlining individual learning events.
What Do I Do Now?, a resource from the American Camping Association, provides over 60 cases scenarios for staff to act out or discuss along with possible discussion questions and debriefing suggestions.