Camp HOLA is a summer program at Hale Reservation for incoming fourth and fifth graders, blending academics with outdoor learning and enrichment. It is part of the Summer Learning Project that was established with BPS and BASB to reduce summer learning loss and to close the achievement gap.

Key Takeaways

  • While adults are present for mediation and conflict resolution when necessary, students are encouraged to work through issues on their own.

  • Conflict is inevitable, but what matters is the ability to work together as a community and respect peers.

  • Staff support each other through small acts of kindness to maintain a positive attitude on long days.

  • Genuine friendships among staff foster a positive socio-emotional environment for youth.

  • Setting clear intentions for the goals of the community at the beginning of the summer set the foundation for positive relationship building throughout programming.

Q: How are students able to resolve conflicts without adult intervention?


A: We try to set a tone where we say, “Adults are here to help you work through issues,” but I also think we try to help kids be able to solve conflict themselves by teaching the difference between tattling and determining when you really need an adult’s help.


When kids run up to me saying, “So and so just did this to me,” our first response is, “Did you say, ‘please don’t speak to me this way?’” or “What did you already do to solve that problem?” versus needing an adult to come in and solve everything. When there’s conflict between two kids, I always pull both the kids to work through it together. Usually it’s just a misunderstanding, it’s, “I felt disrespected by what he said or did,” and I personally find kids don’t have enough adults teaching them how to manage conflict in the day-to-day world. And their parents tell them this, we as adults tell them all the time, “If somebody’s bothering you, you should tell an adult.” And I think that’s sort of a good message, but we need to teach kids what you can do before you tell an adult, and that’s what we try to do here.

Q: When students are not able to resolve a conflict themselves, how are teachers able to intervene to foster a solution?


A: We try to set the tone that conflict happens—it’s just part of the work, it’s part of being a member of a community, it’s part of being a member of a classroom. You’re not always going to like each other, you’re not always going to like what the other person says or does, but you do need to respect each other. We really do force them to discuss conflicts, kids will always say, “I don’t want to talk to him, I’m not going to sit down and work this out with so and so,” but when you force it to happen in a caring and supportive way with an adult guiding the conversation, it always gets resolved in the end.


Kids will say all the time, “We didn’t get along at my school, we had a fight at my school and that’s why we don’t get along now,” and I always try to say, “I’m sorry that happened, I’m sorry that’s the case, but you’re here now, you’re at Camp HOLA, and it doesn’t have to be that way.” And kids are able to develop different kinds of relationships with each other here.


I’ve noticed when we try to separate the two students in question and make the conflict a big deal, it gives the two students in question a lot of “power.” But if we tell them, “You have to deal with this person and you’re not going to do that again,” and once they realize there’s no power in the situation, they adjust their behavior. Separating them isn’t the answer, it’s finding something they can connect on.

Q: How does your staff work together to support each other?


A: Some of the teachers are here full time and some are here part time, and a lot of our counselors have to take the bus to the reservation. We never have time that we can all pull together, except for the four days before we start, so we have to do a lot of it on the fly, and a lot of trying to take care of each other, support each other, offer to help each other, and remind each other that you’re not alone. For example, at lunches I’ll walk around to other tables and ask the counselors how they’re doing, and proceed to talk to the kids in that group, see how they’re doing, and ask them, “How have you been to my friend here?”


Playing together with the kids as a means of support was excellent in terms of teambuilding and showing the kids how we interact together as counselors.There’s always a situation where one kid gets annoyed and wants to walk off and cry, and their counselor doesn’t really want to deal with that because they have to deal with that all day, and the kid doesn’t really want to talk to their counselor because they deal with them all day. So one of us other counselors will take on that responsibility, and I think a lot of the kids really appreciate that, and a lot of the counselors really appreciate that because it gives them a moment to not necessarily give that kid the attention they clearly want, but at the same time the kid still receives the support.

Q: How do you ensure a positive environment for both students and staff?


A: We try to keep it fun; we emphasize positive moods are contagious and negative moods are contagious. It’s a long day, a lot of the staff start at 7:15 a.m. getting on the buses and sometimes don’t get home until 6:00 p.m. if a parent doesn’t come pick up on time, so we try to do little things to remind people how the work that they’re putting in is valued and respected. Sometimes people will order out food for people to eat. We tried to make a little place where the counselors can go and check in and get that little bit of time connecting with another adult so that they can feel refueled again to go back out and be with the kids.


This year’s been really fun because I’ve noticed that the staff actually really likes each other, which adds to the fun for the kids. When we get two or three groups together to do a game, when the counselors are having fun together, the kids have even more fun together because they see that, and they see the friendship that we develop with each other.

Q: Are there any activities or strategies that you guys plan or train for before the camp starts to foster a community atmosphere here?


A: We instituted this idea that your counselors would catch you doing the right thing, and when they caught you doing the right thing they’d give you a raffle ticket. At the beginning of the summer, each group made what we call a Love Contract or a Peace Contract to set the tone and rules of how we’re going to run and value as a group, and then the counselors give out these raffle tickets when they see it. The kids write their name and the group on the back of the raffle ticket, it goes into a box, and at lunch time we pull out lots of time and have little snacks and prizes. That worked really well this year, the kids got really into that idea. I love that the kids are now wanting to put tickets in for some of their friends, they’ll come up and say, “Can I put a ticket in for so and so because he really helped me out at ropes today,” and they’re also doing it for their counselors. When there’s an entire system where you can reward someone basically anonymously, and you can see in front of the whole camp them getting and enjoying that reward without knowing where it came from, that’s something I think they all appreciate and all take to heart, and it’s really taken off.


Hale Reservation Camp HOLA works with students from five different BPS schools, transporting students daily from the city to a nature-based learning environment. Splitting days between math and ELA instruction, which is taught by BPS teachers, and outdoor enrichment, students benefit from a unique approach to learning. Camp HOLA takes advantage of the resources available at the reservation, incorporating a ropes course, boating, swimming, floating classroom, archery lessons into the daily schedule.