The Insight Center sat down with Greg Stoddard from Camp Harbor View to discuss best practices for promoting high attendance among high school students.
Camp Harbor View serves 900 youth from Boston’s at-risk neighborhoods through two four-week summer camp sessions on Long Island in the Boston Harbor, and offers programs to campers and their families throughout the year. Camp Harbor View’s Leader in Training program, for campers ages 15 – 17 years old, served 75 students in summer 2016 and notched an average daily attendance rate of 95.05%.
Students in the Leader in Training (LIT) program are eligible to participate for 3 consecutive summers, and work as staff in the broader Camp Harbor View program. Depending on their experience level, LITs are paid to work with groups of campers, assist adult staff, lead activities, and help with the operations of the camp. In addition to paid work, LITs gain access to job readiness training, college preparation, and fun, both during summer camp sessions and year-round. In their third and final summer, LITs also complete a two-week internship in a field of their choice; placements include health care, sports management, and finance.
Greg, thanks for taking the time to speak with us. As one of 127 sites in the Boston Summer Learning Community in 2016, Camp Harbor View’s Leader in Training (LIT) Program had one of the best average student daily attendance rates among sites serving high school students. As a starting point, tell us about how important student attendance is to your program outlook.
Greg Stoddard (GS): Well, we don’t look at it as if we are trying to prevent a problem, as if we’re trying to avoid low attendance. Our key question is: How do we develop a strong program that kids want to come to? To us, for LITs, the key parts are relationships and the work. We ensure campers have great relationships with each other and our staff. And, for LITs, we want them to be engaged with work that feels meaningful to them. We want them to know and understand the work they are doing is real and valued. And our LITs know if you are missing a day, that we missed you on that day and we mean it. To us, it all comes together in that meaningful relationships with our LITs translates into meaningful work for our LITs.
Of course, a small piece of the pie is accountability. If LITs miss time, they don’t get paid. That’s a powerful incentive, too.
How do you emphasize the importance of student daily attendance to your staff? What role do they play in ensuring high average student daily attendance – both before and during program?
GS: I would answer that through the scope of our staff supervision process. Our staff are critical to developing meaningful relationships and meaningful youth engagement. We have a robust supervision system. A dedicated team of adult youth workers supervises our LITs. LITs set goals with these workers, and they are measured against those goals to track progress. There is a formal weekly supervision meeting – these are structured conversations with some guidelines to it. It’s all about discussing and debriefing progress, why or why didn’t you meet a goal and where do we go from here together?
We expect all kids to meet goals. Part of our debriefing rubric allows for a LIT to “exceed a goal,” not just meet it, to help have that ‘wow’ moment when a LIT realizes how much progress has been made. It’s all about rewarding progress, affirming approval, and constantly feeding the success of the youth. That directly relates to a student wanting to be here every day.
We’re finding that promoting student daily attendance starts in winter when students are recruited into program. Can you tell us how you support & encourage students and their families before program begins and as programming takes place?
GS: Our focus is always on building strong relationships and strong programming. We want campers to feel engaged and feel valued. That will translate to them being there every day.
In your view, what relationship does safety and inclusiveness have to student attendance? How do you ensure students feel the program climate is safe, supportive, and engaging – and do you see that as related to attendance?
GS: Everything we do revolves around our core values: fun, respect, responsibility, character, courage, and community. We have 80 hours of staff training before summer, and quite literally 78 of those hours are devoted to what you should do when kids are doing the right thing. Kids crave adult attention and approval. So we build on that: kids want approval, so when you see kids exemplifying a core value, make a big deal out of it. We say, “check you out!” when they are exhibiting a core value.
We obsessively try to emphasize core values and positive interactions. Next thing you know, we hear students using our language with each other. It’s a self-sustaining model of high engagement and positive relationships. And, as a result, everyone wants to be there every day as part of it. Our LITs buy into these core values of camp – almost all of them are former campers themselves – so they believe in who we are and what we do. And they are well supported and well supervised.
How do you cater your program schedule/offerings to ensure high average student daily attendance?
GS: Our number one rule is to have fun. We encourage getting messy, making gooey things. Play is the work of childhood. If you are not programming to the way kids think and interact, they won’t be engaged. And they probably won’t be there.
What role does family engagement play in maintaining high average daily attendance among students?
GS: We make every effort to reach families. With our LITs, we of course talk to the teens first. We tell them, “Hey, if you’re struggling at work, your boss won’t call your parents.” So we want to give the LITs a chance to solve the problem first, and even on their own, with our support.
But, with that said, we have trust with the families. We make sure parents know the expectations before summer begins, and make sure that parents have plenty of opportunities to engage with us. In many ways, by the time students are LITs, we have known the families for a long time. The parents know us and trust us. And they serve as a backbone, and partner with us to motivate the LITs to make the most of their experiences. And they serve as that partner with us who sometimes push the LITs to show up to work, on those days when maybe the teens have a small desire not to come.
Even with a successful student attendance rate in 2016, is there anything different your program will do next year to improve even further with student attendance?
GS: Well, what’s been missing for us is the year-round component. So we just launched a year-round component [in Fall 2016]. The year-round component is built on the core values. For example, there is a community service component and activities focused on job readiness, financial literacy, and college preparation. We even have family dinners every Friday night. So the purpose is to maintain that connection year round. And LITs feel so pushed during the summer; it’s so intense over the summer. We want them to feel that connection and that progress during the school year, too.
Tell us about lessons you’ve learned over the years about student daily attendance and how those lessons inform your work today.
GS: We really don’t look at “attendance” on its own per se. The focus is really on creating a program that kids want to attend. Our question is constantly, “How do we make the best possible program that every child will want to attend?”
Anything else that you would add or that we missed?
GS: Again, I think it’s all about looking for the strengths – in students and in your own program. It has to be a whole-hearted, full-throated unified approach from staff across to the students: Find greatness and nurture it.
Greg Stoddard serves as Camp Harbor View’s Executive Director. Greg has been with Camp Harbor View (CHV) since its beginning, and has been working with young people since 1996. He came to CHV through the Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston, where he was the social worker at the Yawkey Club of Roxbury for 6 years.
Camp Harbor View changes lives and enhances Boston by exposing underserved youth to the possibilities of a future they may have never envisioned. CHV provides unique experiences that let kids be kids, build confidence, unlock creativity, broaden horizons, and foster skills for successful lives. CHV’s exceptional summer camp experience and year-long programming helps kids to envision new pathways to success by providing life-shaping experiences at a critical time in their lives.