The Learning Camp is uniquely equipped to create an academic environment that truly acts as a "bridge to the school year," as owner Ann Cathcart puts it. And it's not the textbooks, supplies and adventure component that sets its program apart, it's the staff, plain and simple.
Led by Cathcart's husband and camp director, Tom Macht, who has an impressive educational resume, the staff is comprised of professional educators who are extremely enthusiastic about the job at hand. Not only does The Learning Camp pay them well for their summer stint, but the opportunity to tackle their passion -- teaching learning-challenged kids -- is all they need for motivation.
"Today I was on the phone with the head of the special education department at Jacksonville State University in Birmingham, Ala.," says Cathcart. "She asked if four of her top graduating seniors from her college program could spend the summer with us. I'm flying to meet them to see if they're staff I want to choose."
With 12-15 teachers/counselors on staff for the entire summer, the student-to-teacher ratio is about three-to-one, which is important for kids who have difficulty learning.
"The professional staff knows how to build them up and break the groups apart so that the kids are motivated and in their right setting -- you don't send out an expert horseback rider with a mediocre horseback rider, for example, and expect one or both of them to walk away happy," says Cathcart. "Our staff knows how to work with kids to work on their social skills -- they don't holler at them and they don't embarrass them in front of their peers; they work with them toward their success."
The Learning Camp also has what it calls a "Camp Grammie", 70-year-old Lucy Barker, who's been with the camp since its inception. She raised learning-challenged kids and is a camper favorite.
"She comes by in the mornings to read to the kids, and brings baked goods and lots of hugs," says Cathcart. "She's been with me since the beginning and I couldn't have done it without her."
Though The Learning Camp employs professionals, like all camp owners and directors, Cathcart has the same struggles ensuring the right people are on staff every summer.
"Regardless of how wonderful someone's resume is, if I have a gut feeling that they aren't going to live well with the rest of the staff for the summer I should honor that," says Cathcart. "I try to trust my gut when making staffing decisions. I have sat across the table from someone I felt uneasy with or felt something, and yet his or her resume was fabulous. I'd go with the resume, bring the person on board, ignore my uneasy feeling and nine out of 10 times they weren't the person for the job."
Fortunately, Cathcart can afford to be picky, as qualified potential staff has been knocking down the doors of her website, which has in turn opened doors to full camps and excellent staff.