ACA Conference 2022 Recap
First, before I get into all of the ACA Conference 2022 recap and the amazing things I learned and experienced, I want to thank the Conference Planning Team and ACA staff for putting together an excellent conference. It was so very good to be together again!
NOW, without further ado…the top 7 things I gained from this gathering.
We NEED to be together!
This isn’t one of those learnings that passive-aggressively state my opinion on masks and whether or not we should be in-person.
It’s a simple note that being together in person has a beautiful energy that isn’t captured when we are virtual.
Camp professionals need one another. It’s a cool community to be a part of. We share information and ideas generously; we celebrate together; we troubleshoot challenging times; we push one another, and we have a ton of fun.
Being together in person was wonderful!
The “scars from COVID” have lessons to teach
In her keynote and an article published by ACA, Dr. Denise Pope, Senior Lecturer at the Stanford University Graduate School of Education, talks about the scars we all have from COVID. She reflects on what she has seen with youth:
“Even before 2020 — before COVID and the reckoning on race and the political division in our country — we saw kids who were stressed, kids who were depressed and anxious at a very high level. We saw kids who were cheating because they were feeling overloaded and pressured to get the grades by hook or by crook, kids who were so over-scheduled with extracurriculars and advance placement classes and honors classes in order to get into college, and kids who were just, like the title of my book, Doing School. They were kind of little robots going page by page playing the game but not really excited to learn, not really doing the work half the time, and certainly not seeing the meaning and value in it.
Then in 2020, COVID hit. The system wasn’t working before that, but since then, with the increase in isolation, with the increase in fears and the unknown, with the increase in grief and trauma that different kids were experiencing for the past 18 months, we’ve only seen these things increase. Anxiety is up. Depression is up. Disengagement is up. Exhaustion, trauma, not wanting to go to school are up. It’s bad…
We’re coming out of a period now when there was a lot of time spent on screens, both in terms of school being on screens and homework being on screens . . . but also a lot of extracurriculars moving online when they could. It was really the lifeline that allowed kids to see their friends of all ages, and to see Grandma and Grandpa and all of that too. But now we have to kind of detox and use that experience to reconnect with nature, to be outside. There’s a lot of data around the mental health benefits of being in nature — getting our bodies back in motion, working on our social-emotional skills when we’ve kind of forgotten how to interact.”
Obviously, what follows is a deep dive into the value and importance of a camp experience.
You can read more of Dr. Pope’s thoughts here.
The toys are nice, but so are the empty spaces
The display hall at the ACA conference is a super fun place to be. However, it’s easy to get overstimulated with vendors showing off their latest toys and conversation everywhere.
This overstimulation was evident because so many people, like myself, have not experienced it in the last couple of years.
Camps are the same. With decreased capacities last summer, many camp leaders reflected on the value of quieter experiences. There was quite a bit of conversation around how we can NOT pack every minute of the camp experience with activity and instead provide quiet, reflective places and opportunities.
It’s time to ‘get on with it’
Like those who have had a near death experience, our camps have had two years of wondering if the end is near. And, like those who nearly die, camp leaders are now embracing the life they have and are ready to ‘get on with it!’
COVID has given camps a sense of their mortality, and professionals now understand that their future isn’t a given. That means there is a lot of energy around doing what they’ve always dreamed of doing. Whether time is limited or not, it’s time to get on with our big plans and dreams, and hopes for the organizations we serve.
For some, that means starting the new program they’ve been dreaming of. For others, it means investing in the master site planning that has been needed for years.
There is a lot of good energy around what’s next. And camp leaders are poised to make it happen in mighty ways!
Staffing, staffing, staffing
It’s an almost universal challenge. So how do we fill positions – year round, seasonal, and summer staff?
I’m sorry to say, but there isn’t one easy answer. We are all learning our way through this season of staffing challenges.
The good news is that ACA is providing help. Check out the following resources:
The state of camp professionals
It’s interesting to draw a comparison between what Dr. Pope had to say about the state of youth with my thoughts on the state of camp professionals. There are a lot of similarities.
There hasn’t been a big shift in camp professionals from good to bad. Instead, what’s good is still good and what’s bad tends to be worse.
In general, there was very little ‘woe is me’ at the conference, and most of the attitude and energy were very high.
Research that adds value
There is some excellent research being done around the value of camp. Beyond the research, camp leaders are eager to share the results. ACA is leading the way with some great research https://www.acacamps.org/research.
By celebrating the actual benefits of camps, it becomes even clearer that camp is relevant.
The research also shows that camps are a valuable part of a whole body of organizations and programs that support youth and families outside of school. When we understand this value, we can better align our programs and marketing strategies!
Friends, it was GREAT to be with you at the conference. See you again next year!