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Counselors-in-training: creating leadership opportunities.

Older campers who have finished their traditional camp years but wish to return for another summer of camp often face a difficult situation. They are too old to enjoy camp as traditional campers and too young to be employed as counselors.

One way to solve this dilemma and to create a pool of qualified applicants for future counseling positions is to develop a counselor-in-training program.

Camp directors considering such a program must recognize that counselors-in-training are a distinct group at camp. CITs are not campers or counselors; they are in training to become counselors. They have unique training, programming, housing, and interaction needs.

CIT director

The first step in creating a successful CIT program is to designate one staff member as the CIT director; this person's primary function is to train CITs. A classroom setting is helpful for the initial introduction to leadership concepts, but the majority of learning should take place in an experiential setting, where CITs are more likely to retain learning. They should practice communication, conflict management, decision making, and group management skills before they work with campers.

Orientation

Require CITs to participate in the staff orientation. They need to know the camp policies and emergency procedures. Sessions which allow CITs to practice and improve their skills include:

* Certification in First Aid/CPR

* Child abuse, neglect, discipline, and supervision issues

* Problem-solving skills for issues faced in camp

* Setting up and running activities for campers

* Group facilitation

* Team building exercises.

Ongoing training

It's important for the CIT director to have an ongoing training and evaluation plan for each CIT. Include these steps:

* With the CIT, set long- and short-term goals and review progress toward them.

* Monitor CITs and provide feedback on their development as they work with campers.

* Hold periodic conferences with each CIT and focus on the CIT's progress in working with cabin groups, comfort in leading activity programs, relations with staff members and other CITs, and any other concerns the CIT might have.

* Evaluate the CIT in each area.

Programming

CITs need programming that meets their unique needs. Remember, they are "in training" to be future effective counselors. Provide opportunities for CITs to both witness effective leadership and to be role models themselves. If feasible, plan visits to other camps so CITs can observe different styles of leadership and gain an appreciation for other camp directors' philosophies.

Housing

House the CITs in a group with the CIT director or another counselor who has been at the camp before, is respected by the CITs, and who is willing to help coordinate the program. Assigning CITs to the same cabin eases the coordination of programming for the group and allows them to maintain the bond they have established with other CITs.

Assignments

Assign CITs to work with campers who are under the age of 12. CITs should remain with the group of campers they are assigned to during meals, cleanup, evening activities, and times the camp is not in scheduled activity periods. Require participation in on-call or on-duty schedules, but only in a support capacity, supervised by counselors.

Consider assigning CITs to the CITs support areas of the camp. They should spend time in the kitchen, health center, office, and maintenance area, so they understand and appreciate the other departments that make the camp function smoothly. CITs should have experience with the activities they work with and should work the same number of activity periods as counselors.

Time off

Time off is as important to CITs as it is to camp counselors. If the counselors have one activity period per day to themselves, then the CITs should receive similar time off. If nothing is planned after their evening activities and duties, the CITs should be allotted time for themselves. Allow them to attend social activities with older campers, if appropriate. Since CITs do not have all the privileges of counselors, they should have a curfew no later than 30 minutes after the oldest campers' curfew.

Arrange with the camp program director and the CIT director to give CITs one day off per week. All CITs should receive the same day off, so they can participate in a relaxing and fun activity, away from the excitement and tensions inside the camp. Several low-cost activities can be planned as a group, such as cook-outs, hikes in local state parks, movies, overnight camping excursions, or barnstorming trips (to play games with another camps' CITs).

Contracts

To ensure quality and remind the CITs of their responsibilities, each CIT should sign a contract. Signing the contract reinforces the idea that CITs can be dismissed, like any other counselors, for failure to fulfil their duties. The contract should clearly state any expected compensation.

Value of program

CIT programs can decrease staff turnover in the long run. Counselors who were once campers tend to return for more than one summer. Counselors who have gone through a training program prior to taking on the full responsibility of a camp staff member may have more confidence in their abilities and better handle the stress of being a leader 24 hours a day.

CITs are young leaders. Leadership opportunities, such as those offered by a good counselor-in-training program, can help young people become more productive and effective in whatever they do.

Garrett Felix is working on a Master's degree in exercise physiology at Bloomsburg University and has worked as a counselor for nine years at Camp Wayne for Boys in Preston Park, Penn. Holly Ambler is an instructor in Health, Leisure, and Exercise Science at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C. and worked for six years as a counselor at Camp Merriewoode in Sapphire, N.C.
COPYRIGHT 1996 American Camping Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Ambler, Holly P.
Publication:Camping Magazine
Date:Mar 1, 1996
Words:939
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