A few days ago, here at Camp Alleghany, we spent a few hours working on the No Gossip Policy during staff training. This year I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to run this session, along with the First Year Tinges Holly O’Hara, Maddie Wiklund, and Anna White.
The NGP, as we like to call it, has only been around at camp for as long as I have (hopefully this is a coincidence), but in just three years it has become an integral part of staff training that is useful not only as we prepare before camp, but as we progress through term camp too.
The policy is aspirational, and outlines ways in which the counseling team can recognize and stop gossip, emotional drama, and exclusivity amongst counselors and campers. But The NGP was also written in light of the fact that none of us are perfect. For example, we’ll all need to vent from time to time. There is room for this, as long as it’s done in an appropriate way or, perhaps more accurately, to an appropriate person.
The policy has been so successful it has now been extended, and there is a version for campers too.
Back to school time
Finding interesting and useful ways of teaching and exploring The NGP can be tricky. So this year in staff training we decided to try something new. Using ideas that Elizabeth had collected from conferences throughout the year, we decided to unify them under the theme of Schoolyard Gossip. The session was then divided into for parts — each structured like a different class at school — where we used a variety of learning techniques to get the message across.
The first class, Philosophy, was designed to help counselors understand the purpose behind the No Gossip Policy, and to ask them to question whether what they were discussing was good, useful or true before they said it. Holly O’Hara led a skit in which she posed as Socrates, and then opened the floor to counselors, asking them to consider these concepts.
In the second class, Drama, Maddie Wiklund devised scenarios of potential camp dram. Here, the counselors were split into small groups, and challenged to act out their given scenario in front of everyone else, like charades. The counselor audience was then asked to guess which kind of emotional drama they were enacting, and to suggest a way this could be avoided.
The third class was Chemistry. The idea behind this part of the session was to give counselors a visual representation of what happens when emotional drama and camp mix. We did this by combining oil and water in mason jars. The counselors were split into groups according to their type — BUNACers, Maroons, JCs, Head Staff, Non- BUNAC NCCCs, First Year Tinges, and Second Year + Tinges.
Each group was given food dye in their counselor color, which they poured into the oil and water, whilst describing a certain kind of emotional drama relating specifically to their group. This illustrated how different types of counselors could get stuck in the drama, and [unknowingly] impact camp. It was interesting to see that all the drama that arose was related to each individual group feeling left out in some way. Expressing our feelings and verbalizing solutions led to a more united front amongst the counseling staff.
The final class was Arts and Crafts. Anna White proposed situations of drama and gossip ranging from the small — someone drinks your diet coke in the Counselor Lounge — to the large — your camper goes “missing” for a moment.
Counselors then called out where they thought this ranked on the drama-meter, a kind of barometer that allows us to keep a sense of perspective. It’s easy for small issues to seem much larger in the “Camp Bubble”, but we provided photocopies of the drama-meter for counselors to decorate and keep with them throughout term to try and address this issue. We also have a larger version of the drama-meter hanging on the wall in the Counselor’s Lodge.
Agreeing to agree
We wrapped up this important training day by signing the No Gossip Policy. Hopefully, with a fuller understanding of the overarching aims of The NGP, and a set of practical, camp-specific examples of drama and gossip to keep in mind, as well as the visual examples of the mason jars and drama-meter that now reside in the CL, we, as counseling staff, will continue to strive towards eliminating gossip from Camp Alleghany entirely.
We’re not perfect. But The NGP, if nothing else, is designed to help us be better.
–Georgie O’Toole, Counselor, Camp Alleghany for Girls