Editor’s Note: We welcome Teresa Padgett as our first ever Head of Leaders-In-Training (LIT), the leadership program for 16s that we’re launching this summer. This was her first American Camp Association (ACA) Conference and this is her first contribution to our blog.
My First Time at the ACA National Conference
In February I had the amazing opportunity to attend the ACA National Conference in Nashville, Tennessee! It was my first ever camp conference and I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. But it definitely exceeded my expectations and got me even more pumped for this summer!
It started with a 7.5-hour road trip with our one and only program director, Casey Tucker that was full of camp talk, philosophical discussions and of course, jokes!
After arriving and settling in we reunited with Camp Director Elizabeth Shreckhise – my roommate for the week! ☺ Over dinner we discussed which sessions we were excited about and made plans to divide and conquer so we could learn as much as possible and share with one another afterwards.
There were so many great sessions to choose from. We put stars next to all the ones we were interested in and then decided to take it day-by-day. (Oh yeah, we also got these fun lanyards with nametags and special ribbons like “First Timer” or “Camp Includes Me” and as we attended more sessions we gained more ribbons. It was fun to find all the ACA people by spotting their lanyards.)
Hitting The Sessions
The conference took place at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Conference Center– which is HUGE! There were around 1800 camp professionals/enthusiasts in attendance. It was amazing to be part of a community that truly loves camp. I felt really special to be around people who know why we spend our summers outside with kids and why this work is so important.
Our first session was called EPIC (Emerging Professionals in Camp). This session was a space for camp professionals to come together to share ideas, brainstorm projects, and be inspired to move forward in fun and efficient ways in our work with campers, counselors, and parents.
After EPIC we joined together in the ballroom (one of the many ballrooms in that city of a place!) for some speakers and a cute performance by kids in a local dance group. Wendy Mogel, author of The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Timeless Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children, was the first — and amazing — keynote speaker.
After that inspiring talk we all prepared to go to our next educational session. Throughout the week I attended the following sessions:
- “Mindfulness as Play” with Charisse Minerva, Inward Bound Education
- “Effective Debriefing Tools and Techniques” with Michelle Cummings, Training Wheels
- “Missing Mr. Rogers: How to Teach Kindness, Respect, and the Unique Value of Everyone One at Camp” with Michael Brandwein *
- “All the Feels: Building Social & Emotional Skills at Camp” with Allison Wittenberg & Kyle Medeiros, ACA New York
- “Connected & Lonely” with Jonathan Hodge, Tate’s Day Camp
- “Leave No Trace: Games, Activities & Initiatives” with Jessie Johnson & Matt Schneider, Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics
- “Leadership: Building Capacity of the Next Generation” with Kerry Plemmons, University of Denver/Daniels College of Business
- “Intentional Leadership Development: Implementing a Counselors-In-Training Program for Your Camp” with Maggie & Carina Braun, WaHaKee Camp for Girls
- “Using Micro-Learning to Drive Engagement” with representatives from ACA as moderators and multiple speakers from the conference presenting micro-lessons
- “Large Group Leadership: Super Secrets to Making Magnificent Moments at All Camp Assemblies, Announcements and Events” with Michael Brandwein
We also heard another keynote speaker – Sonya Whitaker, author of The Culturally Responsive Teacher: How Understanding Culture Positively Impacts Instruction and Student Achievement. She challenged us to be more self-aware and aware of the communities we work in and to take on growth mindsets in order to build our cultural competencies at camp.
So Much To See And Do
One of the more stimulating parts of the conference was the Exhibit Hall. The room was filled with multiple rows of camp vendors and merchandise telling us why their t-shirt/online tool/bug spray/playground equipment etc. was the best. I left with way too many free pens and water bottles and also a broader understanding of how big of an industry is devoted to camp equipment and camp marketing.
The conference was also a great time for networking, reuniting with camp friends, and sharing insights and ideas. It was really cool to talk to so many different people about what their camps are like, what positions they have at camp, and why they love camp so much.
It was also really fun to see Elizabeth and Casey reunite with their camp professional friends that they’ve worked with or met at conferences or with whom they share ideas.
For those of you who know and remember her, we also got to meet up with camper/staff alumna Stewart Summers** one night. We loved seeing her! I love the connections that camp creates and that no matter how long it’s been camp is always a unifier that brings people together!
I left with so many exciting takeaways from this conference. I look forward to using them all this summer and throughout my life. To name a few:
- “IAAT” – I Am Always Teaching – from the EPIC pre-conference; We are always modeling our behavior in everything we do.
- Being able to play at any age is so important for our brains and our souls.
- We need to disconnect from technology in order to really connect with one another.
- We have to let our children fail and learn from their failure – self rescue!
- We only have 72 hours to stop gossip at camp!
- “Feedback is nourishment for the soul.” – Kerry Plemmons
- “Every move we make can result in serving our children better.” – Sonya Whitaker
- “Mindfulness allows us to reveal our highest selves and build community.” – Charisse Minerva
- “Camp is the best systematic trust building exercise on earth.” – Jonathan Hodge
I left feeling inspired and excited about the importance of camp in each of our lives.
Camp is a place where we can disconnect from technology and social pressures. It’s also a place that fosters growth for children and adults through play and experiencing nature together. Camp allows us to feel empowered and inspired by the work that we do and the people we work with.
I’m so grateful for this experience that made me love camp even more and made me even more excited for this amazing summer ahead! Being around so many people dedicated to the youth development that camp provides made me feel so lucky to have been a camper and a camp counselor and a camp leader and now a camp professional!
Before the conference Elizabeth told me, “You’re going to love it! Your camp nerd can truly shine!” It sure did! ☺
If you want to know more about my experience at the ACA conference, about any of the sessions I attended or if you have any questions about the new LIT program launching this summer feel free to reach out. I’m happy to share!
— Teresa Padgett, Head of Leaders-In-Training 2019, Camp Alleghany for Girls
*Some of you may remember Brandwein from staff training! ☺
** Stewart’s 16 summer was 2009. She was a Junior Counselor in 2010, worked a few summers as a counselor, was a camp nanny in 2014, and then a 2nd term office assistant in 2018. She’s a teacher in Nashville!