Scary Stories

By David Johnston

At 1:30 a.m. on the second evening of summer camp, all is quiet as six young girls sleep in their cabin with their first-year, 19-year-old counselor.

One of the girls decides she needs to go to the restroom, so she quietly steps over the side of her upper-bunk but misses a step and crashes to the floor.

In spite of banging her head during the fall, she insists she is fine, takes her bathroom break, and climbs back into bed.

As the counselor, what would you do?

This is one of many case studies in the “Scary Story” portion of staff training at Skye Farm Camp and Retreat Center in Warrensburg, N.Y.

Since camp leaders must deal with several challenges at once while attempting to train staff members, case studies seem to make sense to this generation that learns best through experience and using multiple senses.

Making Choices
After the new counselor made her decision--the wrong one--and allowed the girl to stay in bed, and after her tears stopped flowing when the girl was sent home with a mild concussion, I told her, “You get to be in next year’s ‘Scary Stories.’”

Earlier that week during camper check-in, the same counselor saw a man approaching without a shirt and wearing light boxer shorts that showed too much skin. The barefoot, sunburned man was under the influence of alcohol, but was not causing any harm. In this instance, she made the right decision by not confronting him, but instead moved her campers away and contacted the camp director for help. This also made the “Scary Stories” training.

The key to designing a good case study is to find real-life or believable incidents that don’t leave a clear choice of what to do next.

In the first case, the counselor had to choose between what she observed--a no-big-deal bump on the still-happy camper’s head--and what she had been told, “We don’t care what time of day or night, a bump on the head is a trip to the nurse.”

In the second case, the counselor--who had seen plenty of young men who had consumed too much alcohol--had to choose between ignoring a problem that would likely have gone away while not embarrassing a camper and asking for assistance.

The Benefits
The beauty of case studies is they are fun for staff to solve, they can be discussed at the end of the day when most learning is challenging, they can be completed on a break along the trail, and they serve as a wake-up call to first-year counselors who have no idea (“You mean that actually happened?”) that the wrong decision could get them and their campers into a real jam.

So, hand out the scenarios, divide the staff into small groups, have each group debate and report its decision, and start off the summer on the right foot.

David Johnston is the executive director for the Skye Farm Camp and Retreat Center. He can be reached via e-mail at