Lessons Learned from the 2020 American Camp Association National Conference

At camp we always want to encourage children to try new things.  Whether it’s eating a hand-picked veggie from the Farm, climbing to the top of the tower, or making your first tie-dye; camp is chock full of opportunities to embody a growth mindset.  We also hope that our staff will employ an attitude of openness to new knowledge and experiences, role modeling for the hundreds of bright and impressionable minds that share this space with us each year.  With this intention towards growth mindset, four members of our year round team — Shelley (our registrar), Barbara (our finances maestro), Zeke (one component of our staff hiring brain), and Katie (another component of our staff hiring brain) — set out for sunny San Diego last week where the annual American Camp Association National Conference was being held.  

The ACA National Conference is an annual opportunity for camp professionals to come together and share resources and knowledge in a whole host of camp related fields.  It’s also a great networking opportunity. Our crew ran into a big name in the camping world: Tom Rosenberg. For those who don’t know Tom, he is the current Chief Executive Officer of ACA and a former Director at Blue Star Camps and Camp Judaea in Western NC for many years.  

Below are a few of the standout sessions and takeaways that our team can’t wait to share with the 2020 staff and campers!

Zeke:  I loved that the theme at this year’s conference was connections.  As a previous blog post mentions (A Connection to Camp), camp affords an incredible opportunity to help children explore their connections with the natural world as well as the nurturing community around them.  If I had to pick the most impactful sessions I attended, it would be the two that centered on interactive staff training activities and interactive debriefing techniques respectively.  As I will be stepping into a leadership role in Older Programs come summertime, I can’t wait to incorporate more intentional critical-thinking for camp’s current and future leaders!

Shelley: My favorite sessions focused on youth development.  The Opening keynote speaker David Yeager does research in this field and shared his findings that show how a shift in children’s mindset virtually eliminated the achievement gap.  His research showed that a growth mindset (instead of a fixed mindset) is critical in overcoming challenges, but also identified reframing a stress mindset, or seeing stress as enhancing your ability to grow, as a critical component to overcoming challenges.  Other sessions by Dr. Gilboa, aka “Dr. G”, focused on mental health. She had some really great exercises for staff training and strategies that we can use with our staff to help them learn to deal with stress.

Katie: This was my second ACA conference. I went to sessions focusing on staff and different ways to improve staff training. One of my favorite sessions was called “The Campfire” led by John Jorgenson. We explored the most effective ways to lead games and songs while keeping the campers and staff engaged and having a fun time. Another  session that I really enjoyed was called “Happy Staff are Good for Business”. This session was led by Ivy Cohen of Camp Leaders, one of the international staffing agencies we work with. Ivy focused on ways to improve the job satisfaction of staff during the summer. She also emphasized ways to collect and use feedback from your summer staff. 

Barbara:  I really enjoyed the 2020 ACA conference!  A highlight for me was a session “Alums are the Key”.   Methods of increasing your Alumni database were discussed as well as the value of Alums in referrals of campers and staff and of course donations for the Gwynn Valley Campership Foundation. Another nugget was the session “Using Trauma-Informed Training to Bridge Youth Development”.   ACA reaches 10.3 million campers annually; of this number, 6.5 million have experienced some type of traumatic experience.  Thus the need to understand, recognize and respond appropriately to childhood trauma is crucial to creating the ultimate learning environment for our campers.

Attending the ACA National Conference in February is always a great way to inspire our year round team and generate new ideas for the summer ahead. We can’t wait to put our learning into action as campers and staff begin to arrive at camp in a few short months!