The Power of Group Partnerships
By Susan Langlois
Partnering with area schools and working to bring their students and teachers to your camp not only adds to your bottom line, but is also a powerful promotional tool which can boost your traditional enrollment and enhance your camp’s image.
Bringing The School (Or Class) To Camp
Bringing a local school, grade or individual class to camp can be very attractive to teachers and students. After all, you provide plenty of opportunities for hands-on learning experiences (different from what they experience in a classroom setting) that reinforce what’s being learned in the classroom in a fun and memorable way. In fact, when done successfully, these partnerships can become the highlight of the year – something incoming classes hear about and look forward to – now that’s marketing!
And, the best part? Breaking into this market isn’t as hard as you might think. You simply need to reach out to the schoolteacher (or church group leader, athletic team coach, after school program coordinator, local business association director, etc.) and find out what topics they’re covering and what their goals are for their students/members. Often you’ll find teachers have a specific content area they think needs to be “cranked up a notch” and are already looking for ways to drive home their lesson(s). Your programming may just fit the bill.
And, since camps allow students to learn in a totally different setting and are masters at making everything fun, your opportunities are virtually endless. You can work to develop experiential, activity-based programs with math, science, English/language arts or even physical education teachers. Or, if you decide to target youth groups instead of schools, you can focus on nurturing so-called soft skills like self-confidence, leadership, sportsmanship, civic responsibility and respect for individual differences.
The key is to connect with the teacher (or group leader), get a clear understanding of their goals and then design a program around his or her wishes.
You’ll find developing a partnership with the teacher by working to integrate their lessons with the camp activities is a great way to ensure satisfaction – and a lot of fun.
Critical Thinking Activities
Still not convinced you can fill the “educational requirement?”
Don’t worry. You can integrate just about any learning objective into your standard set of activity based programming if you focus on activities requiring students to use critical thinking skills and peer cooperation to achieve a specific goal.
This may sound complicated but it is actually pretty easy and a lot of fun to create. Critical thinking basically involves comparing and contrasting, noting significant similarities and differences, formulating predictions, and examining the evidence to support or refute predictions. These critical thinking skills could be easily applied and learned by students in a camp environment.
For example, if students were learning about the center of gravity principle in their science class, a camp obstacle course could be the perfect setting to explore and understand how changes to the center of gravity can affect the ability to maintain your balance by asking students to explore how bending and straightening their legs impacts their ability to complete a log walk. Students can compare and contrast different angles of their knee flexion, observe the angle which seems to give the body the most ability to maintain balance, then formulate and test the theory of the optimal degree of knee flexion by examining the evidence to support or refute the prediction that a given knee flexion will ensure successful completion of the log walk.
Peer Cooperation Activities
Cooperation has become the buzzword from running a successful business to having a happy family. As you know, camps are probably one of the best places to help young people learn how to meet goals as a group. Challenge activities are great for building the sense of team and improving self-confidence. A challenge activity can be as simple as asking a group to travel from Point A to Point B following a few basic rules. Or, give them the challenge of getting everyone across a thirty-foot span with their only point of contact with the ground being one foot-long, two-by-four. Then, supply one less two-by-four than the number of people in the group and stipulate the group must form a human chain by holding hands. If one person releases a hand or steps on anything but a two-by-four, the group must start over and go back to Point A. This challenge activity will get everyone thinking, discussing, sharing, supporting, and probably laughing until they reach their goal. It is amazing how much people learn about others and themselves with this activity.
Helping to Package the Experience
After you create the content with the teachers and leaders, you should also work with them on packaging the experience. Here are some points to consider:
• Stay flexible on the format as you explore what they can afford and what your labor and facility costs will be.
• A one-day package might be the best place to start but keep in mind it will limit the distance people can reasonably travel and still be able to have a full-day of activity.
• Brown bag lunches help keep labor and cleaning costs down and everyone can eat what they like. You might want to consider selling refrigerated bottles of water or just build the cost into the cost of the day.
• Let everyone know you will open your camp store and give them a price list in their information packet. Also include applications for the next camping season. You can also direct them to your camp website for these items.
• Insist on the completion of a signed, parental informed consent form for every participant.
• Have a participant list (including group leaders) highlighting important medical history and contact information in case of a medical emergency.
• Include in your information packet suggestions of what to bring -- clothing, sunscreen, lunch, cameras, insect repellant, etc.
• Offer activities able to be adapted to/for a complete range of fitness levels and ability levels.
• Incorporate photography to capture the spirit of the day. This can pay great dividends as it helps them to remember their experience and it can also drive traffic to your camp’s website. There are software packages and companies online that allow you to post photos people can buy with a credit or debit card. If you can manage to get a group shot, you can turn it into a post card you can send to everyone as a thank you and to promote your next event.
• Ask for feedback from all participants before they leave. You can even make the submission of the evaluation forms an entry to a raffle for camp merchandise.
Investing in a school-camp partnering program can be a great marketing tool and involving the leaders early on in the planning phase is a critical factor to ensure the program is not only relevant for everyone involved, but successful and fun.
Dr. Susan Langlois has over 25 years experience as a college professor, athletic administrator, camp director and sport facilities consultant. She is currently at the campus director at Springfield College School of Human Services in Manchester and St. Johnsbury. She can be reached at email@example.com.