Developing a Culture of Safety at Camp - Part 3

April 29, 2011 by John Oliver

Effectively teaching or leading a group of peers requires a dynamic personality. The ability to demonstrate a skill is only half of the equation.

If counselors, trainers, supervisors, or coaches lack the skills to effectively communicate instructions, your campers or program participants will be put at risk. As Su Rider of Wesley Woods mentions, a special focus should be placed on “teaching staff how to teach”.

Lesson #3

Not everyone is cut out to be a counselor, trainer, or coach.

Before the season begins, dedicate several hours to training your staff on the most effective and efficient ways to communicate rules and procedures to campers. Discuss road blocks that should be expected while on duty, and the best methods to circumvent these challenges. Your staff should be prepared for every scenario they may face, and know who to contact if they need assistance.

An extended period of time should be dedicated to evaluating a counselor's ability to lead and enforce the camp's policies and procedures. The only way to accomplish these goals is to work side-by-side with potential counselors. While experience and comfort can go a long way, you must always remember that some people just aren't cut out to be a summer camp counselor. You must be prepared to move in a different direction if you recognize somebody that does have camp life and leadership in their DNA.

Evaluating and Developing Summer Camp Counselors

Summer camps across the country typically rely on college-aged students with limited experience. Do you have similar concerns? What steps do you take to ensure your customers and employees are safe?

Well… many of our summer staff have been campers who have graduated to our Wrangler Helper Program, who then apply for summer staff when they are old enough. Typically, most of their horse experience is from Wesley Woods. This is helpful because they have been raised on our practices and brand of safety, so they know what they are getting into. We deal with rustiness or inexperience by putting staff through a week long AAHS certification clinic. Anybody wanting to be a head wrangler (allowed to work independently of me) MUST be certified. The American Camp Association also allows for people to provide proof of experience, but we choose to hold ourselves to a higher standard.

New staff also spend at least a week, usually two to three weeks, working side-by-side with me or another senior staff. This gives a chance to intervene if they make a wrong decision or have questions. As they show that they are competent and confident, I begin withdrawing and letting them work more independently, until we are both confident that they are ready to work completely independently.

Can you explain the Wrangler Helper Program in a little more detail?

Kids at CampOur Wrangler Helper Program is a great “farm system” for producing future summer staff. High school students complete a training event in May. After they learn about safety, riding, and procedures, they return to camp for a few weeks to assist our head wranglers in all aspects of the equine program. While wrangler helpers are NEVER responsible for camper safety (they are not adults), they make great “gophers” and serve as extra eyes and ears for our head wranglers.

We find that people who have been wrangler helpers at Wesley Woods often make the best head wranglers a few years down the road. That being said, we’ve had some excellent summer staff come from elsewhere. Most of them were majoring in related fields and/or had showing and other riding experience.

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