Following my junior year of high school I was told that it was time to become an adult, which meant getting a summer job. Within a few weeks of beginning my search for gainful employment, I was fortunate to have two options: the South Hills JCC Day Camp or Rite Aid on Bower Hill Rd. Rite Aid paid 25 cents more per hour, so as a typical teenager I was leaning towards taking more money. I envisioned all of the late night meals at Eat’n Park I could afford with the extra cash, but I knew in my gut that summer camp would provide a much more meaningful experience.
After discussing things over with my parents I decided to become a summer camp counselor, and I worked for four years at the South Hills JCC during my high school and college summers. Working as a camp counselor convinced me to major in education and after graduating with a teaching certificate it was time to find another summer job. This time I found myself having to choose between driving for Uber and working at J&R Day Camp in Monroeville. Based on my previous experience at the South Hills JCC the choice was easy and once again I chose summer camp.
Fresh out of college, I now had an entirely different perspective on my summer employment. While there was still the same laughter, happiness and pure joy that camp brought out in the children while they jumped in puddles, sang at flagpole, scored the winning goal or passed a new swim level, there was something much deeper and profound going on. We were actually helping to prepare campers for their professional careers!
In their 2017 paper The Future of Learning: Redefining Readiness from the Inside Out, Prince, Swanson and Saveri suggest that more flexible skills, such as those focused on social-emotional development, promise to help youngsters become resilient, reflective and able to form positive connections and relationships. They identify three core skills that promote the social and emotional awareness needed to succeed in the future workforce – all skills that we foster each day at camp:
- Deep self-knowledge: Individuals will need to continue to discover their own personal and professional strengths, weaknesses, passions and emotional patterns. At camp we provide a wide variety of group-based and choice activities that allow campers to try new things, hone in on their specific interests and/or improve existing skills. In essence, our campers become more comfortable in their own skin.
- Emotional regulation: Workers will need to be able to recognize their own emotions, understand the triggers that create them and move to more productive emotional states. At camp children move throughout the day in groups with friends. Positive peer influence is a big part of learning to regulate emotions.
- Empathy and perspective taking: People will need to be able to recognize others’ emotions and perspectives to help build inclusive, collaborative work environments. At camp there’s an abundance of opportunity for conversation between friends, new and old, with negotiations taking place at every turn. Which activity will we do next? Who is able and who needs help with it? And counselors support the process of growth in not only collaboration but in the development of those empathic skills.
I could have never imagined that the decision my parents helped me make all of those years ago would have led me to a profession so profound in its impact on children’s lives. From problem solving to inclusion, from thinking differently to taking initiative and advocating for one’s self, camp is a unique environment where the new frontier of readiness is taught in such tangible ways.
JCC Summer Day Camp starts in 65 days. Are you signed up for a summer of connections, values, growth and fun?
Jason M. Haber
South Hills Day Camp Director