As our recap series of Summer 2022 continues, I’d like to share a little peek into our ever-so-important Staff Training period at the beginning of the summer.
Our Staff Training is a full two weeks, and it’s so important that we rarely allow counselors to miss any part of it. Of course, extenuating circumstances do come up, and we work with the staff, but this is truly a sacred two-week period at Alleghany!
Many Alleghany alums – myself included! – will remember Staff Training, or Pre-Camp as we called it, as a few days of going over rules, schedules, the Handbook, and then some fun time off with our fellow counselors. Well I’m here to tell you – times have changed!
Staff Training is now jam-packed with everything from hard skills like CPR and First Aid training for ALL staff, specific activity trainings or reviews such as lifeguard skills verification, canoeing skills, ropes course training, a 20-hour Rifle School, Archery School and more; to communication skills like working with homesick campers (or campers who are “missing home”), conflict resolution, navigating sensitive topics, positively praising campers; to mission-based communication, decision-making, and more.
It’s pretty hard-core, if I do say so myself.
AND – while younger counselors may not realize at the time how much they’re getting out of it, many of them contact me later in life as they begin their careers to share with me how much something they learned in Staff Training has had an impact on their professional life.
Former counselor-turned-doctor Amelia Fatsi shared with me at the start of her medical career:
“Hey Elizabeth! I wanted to reach out and thank you for the way that, I have come to realize, you have massively impacted my life. At the time, I didn’t really understand the purpose of all the communication training you organized for us during [Staff Training] sessions, but over the last years, I have found myself often thinking of ways to format my thoughts and expressions in a way that will be best received by the listener. This is especially true when resolving conflict and sharing difficult news. I feel like it comes more and more naturally with practice over years, but this thought process I am sure started at camp. I am about to graduate from medical school and know that I will continue to use these skills with patients as well as in my personal life, and am just so grateful for the way that you catalyzed my journey into being an effective communicator. So thanks”
(and let this be a little plug that the skills learned during Staff Training can help in any career, not just child- or educationally-focused ones!)
What’s Your Theme?
Every year we choose a theme for Staff Training and we carry it through the summer for the counselors. While the campers may be aware of the theme – maybe they see it on our Staff Training tee shirt, or they hear the counselors talking or chanting about it – the theme is really reserved for the counselors. We choose something relevant that we can relate every staff training session back to, and that helps bring all our ideas together or culminate them into the overarching purpose for the counselors’ work at camp.
This year’s theme centered around our 100th summer and what we call ‘Ghany Magic. Drawing from the ideas of the brilliant mind of camp guru Michael Brandwein, we took a spin on the Magic piece and used the phrase “It’s not magic, it’s methodical” to discuss the hard work and methods that go into creating the magic for the campers. We took a deep dive into the behind-the-scenes work that goes into creating the experiences for the campers, and even studied Houdini and how hard he worked to create magic and illusion – and how he made it look so easy!
This theme was designed to help counselors really understand how much goes into the job, but also to feel rewarded in their hard work when they see the results of it.
It was one of my favorite themes we’ve ever done ☺.
Our one-week session for first-time campers, Mini Camp, takes place during the second week of Staff Training. This is very intentional, as it allows for a soft opening for our Term Counselors, who teach the daily activities during Mini Camp. A separate group of alumnae comprises the Mini Camp Counselors, who take on tent/meal and daily life responsibilities for the Mini Campers. Term Counselors spend half the day teaching and interacting with the Mini Campers, and the other half of the day in Staff Training sessions – often debriefing their interactions with the campers that day. It gives them real-life, hands-on experience before they dive into their full-fledged role as counselors. And the Mini Campers get the best of both worlds – loving, nurturing, experienced Mini Camp Counselors, with fun, active, energetic Term Counselors. It’s a win-win for everyone!
Things don’t always go as planned during Staff Training. In 2016 the Greenbrier River flooded halfway through Mini Camp, cutting Staff Training off while extending the Mini Campers’ stay at camp as the river was too high to exit camp!
Often other inclement weather, medical matters, or staffing issues have thrown a wrench into our best-laid plans.
This summer, COVID was the culprit! Despite our best efforts to keep COVID-19 out of camp, it made its way in and several of our staff members came down with it. As we neared Opening Day of 1st Term, we realized that we did not have enough staff who were well to start on time. So we delayed the opening of 1st term by two days to allow a couple more days for the staff to recover, as well as to give the remainder of the counselors a few days of deep rest to keep their immune systems functioning at top-notch.
We bounced back, and while we did deal with COVID during the beginning of each term, we ended strong with 3 solid weeks COVID-free and a resilient staff who truly understood that flexibility is the key to camp!
My goal with Staff Training is always to prepare the counselors, not just for the summer at hand (which of course is hugely important!) but also to prepare them for other areas in life – heading to college, starting a new job, dealing with adversity or unexpected life situations, bouncing back from tough times, communicating in challenging conversations, standing up for what is right, choosing not to gossip, and the list goes on.
I truly pour my heart into Staff Training every year, and I always say it’s the hardest two weeks of my entire year! When it comes to an end and I release the staff off to change childrens’ lives, I can sit back, relax, and… just kidding! I do not sit back and relax during the summer, BUT I can definitely take a deep breath and know that the campers are in excellent hands, and the counselors are truly ready to tackle the job and create positive, memorable experiences for each and every camper.