The Edge: The View Ahead

by Judith Bevan

At my camp we have a special ceremony for the campers who will be aging out of the camp program. Many of those campers have been attending Camp Broadstone for the past six years, and the thoughts of not being able to return weigh heavily on them. These are fifteen-year-olds who are in the midst of much transition: being seen more and more as an adult and less as a child, moving through high school into the exploration of the next academic possibilities, and taking the exciting steps that bring them more independence. As a part of that independence, one thing they have in common is their driver's education and the forthcoming license to drive. During the ceremony, I use the analogy of driving to help them focus on the years and opportunities that lie ahead, while keeping their camper years in their sight. I call it the "windshield philosophy." There is a reason the windshield of our cars is big and wide. We need the clearest and greatest view that we can possibly have driving toward our destination. The rear view mirror has its place by reminding us of what has gone behind us and helping us to keep those images intact. However, we cannot drive forward while constantly looking in the rear view mirror. That is a sure recipe for a crash down the road.

As we enter 2010, and the beginning of our next one hundred years, we have been provided a destination through the 20/20 Vision. Our past century of progressive history has provided a rear view mirror that is full of important milestones and passionate, dedicated leaders that have brought our organization forward. The many task forces investigating the various pieces of the puzzle that will bring us to the accomplishment of the 20/20 Vision and beyond are striving to make sure the windshield provides the best and clearest view to the membership.

The members of the Education and Accreditation Task Force are devoting their energy examining the current accreditation system and imagining how that piece will transition from a static program to a dynamic system that encourages professional development to support the camp professionals seeking accreditation, challenges camps and camp professionals to reach for new heights, and invites a broad variety of camps and programs that the 20/20 Vision goal will bring into ACA.

Our Past

As we glance back through the rear view mirror, the images of our one hundred years journey are powerful and vivid:

  • The official adoption of camp standards in 1948. What a jumpstart for the world of organized camping to assist camps in maintaining high quality in programming and safety.
  • The tremendous devotion of the volunteers, who over the years have worked to evolve the standards to keep pace with current practices, have performed countless on-site camp visits, have mentored emerging camp professionals, and have continued to support the accreditation process at the local and national level. These volunteers are a valuable resource.
  • The most powerful professional development piece that many camp directors experience during their careers is the process of preparing and guiding a camp through an accreditation visit.

Looking Ahead

Yet, if we are to have a clear view through the windshield to continue the momentum toward our destination, we need a closer examination of our accreditation program and what process brings us.

  • Technology has changed rapidly to create new tools and methods for communication, the delivery of information, and the ability to do more efficiently. Using online resources will allow us to literally put accreditation guides, standard revisions and updates, visitor information, and supporting professional development resources at our members' fingertips. Our process will be more streamlined, more able to change quickly as current practices dictate, and be more customizable.
  • A look at how other accrediting bodies, such as the Council of Accreditation or the National Association for the Education of Young Children, manage the process reminds me of a line from a Sesame Street children's song, "One of these things is not like the others." Our peer accreditation groups are already using techniques that emphasize the focus of the on-site visit to be education and observation. Having the agency or camp seeking accreditation complete documents and assessment prior to the on-site visits allows the time to be spent on what we all say is the true value of accreditation — education.
  • Our current accreditation system does not meet people or camps where they are. If an agency or individual wants to start a new camp or camp program, we do not have the professional development resources in place to support and guide them. They are shown a binder with 326 standards and expected to sort out what applies to their particular endeavor. We live in a world where the ability to customize a product is a powerful commodity. You only have to watch a few mobile phone commercials to see how multiple features are being promoted. The ability to provide customization will be more inviting to the influx of the variety of camps and camp programs the 20/20 Vision will bring — and those who are looking at ACA as the youth development expert.
  • We have a vast resource of knowledge and experience within our volunteers, yet limited avenues for them to share with others. A professional development program will provide this wealth of knowledge as an outlet with many opportunities to be mentors, educators, authors, and trainers. A comprehensive professional development program will support camp professionals throughout their career, engaging them in relevant topics to give them the edge in the constantly changing environment of camp. It will also be able to meet emerging programs, camps, and individuals at their starting point and offer them the resources to grow and develop into career professionals that in turn will create the commitment necessary to attain the lofty goal of the 20/20 Vision.

Making the 20/20 Vision a Reality

The findings about our current accreditation system that have been brought to light through the information gathering phase of The Education and Accreditation Task Force are being combined with the findings of the many other groups working to make the 20/20 Vision a reality. These groups are leaving no area of our Association unexamined. Groups are involved in finances, membership, board development, the Council of Delegates, field service, as well as education and accreditation. Self-assessment can be difficult and uncomfortable as we take a hard look at the present, but the process of discernment is extremely limited without it. The information and recommendations each group is providing is creating a clearer and uncluttered view on how to proceed to accomplish the 20/20 Vision.

The next 100 years will no doubt bring great change to the world of camping and the field of child and youth development. The steps we take today to propel the American Camp Association toward that future are crucial if we are to be the knowledge broker camps that youth development agencies and organizations turn to.

For me, the view through the windshield is bright and exciting. There is so much potential ahead to introduce and involve more people, more programs, and more children into the marvelous, life-changing world of camp. I encourage you to learn more about the work of the task force groups, ask questions, and participate in webinars and in-person meetings with the 20/20 Vision Task Force so that your vision is as big and clear as possible on the road to serving twenty million annually in camp experiences by the year 2020.

Originally published in the 2010 January/February issue of Camping Magazine.

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