YMCA Camp Ponkapoag is a summer program for incoming 4th and 5th graders that teaches ELA and math in order to reduce summer learning loss.

Key Takeaways

  • The program uses a wide variety of communication tactics to reach out to the families of camp participants.

  • Small staff-student ratios are always maintained.

  • A variety of incentives are offered to keep students engaged.

  • Because transportation is provided, tardiness is not an issue.

  • If the program catered to younger students, the activities would have included more movement to keep the students engaged. For older students, they would have been in charge of running the activities rather than adults.

Q: How did your program communicate program start and end times to families – i.e. print media, phone calls, informal communication, newsletters, etc.?


A: We used weekly emails, call blasts, a family info form that covered all information before, during, and after the camp, weekly newsletters that were sent out in backpacks and via email, and one-on-one discussions with parents at pick-up and drop off by counselors.


The newsletters and the calls happen during the camp season. Whereas the flyers and backpack drop occur prior to the start of the program. The newsletters and the calls typically include highlights from the week of camp, what is upcoming, what do you need to plan for, important dates, and contact information. The flyers leading up to the program focus more on being prepared for camp, making sure the students had all their paperwork in, and reminders before the first day. There was some specific language used during camp time that differed from that used prior. Newsletters were emailed, and then we also printed copies at the campsite and each student would take a copy home.


For the one-on-one discussions at drop off, the parent has to sign out their child every day, so staff had to have some interaction with the parents. It could be sporadic on what needed to be discussed on any day, but my expectation is that staff are having pleasant conversations with them no matter what. If there ever was something that needed to be discussed in more detail, staff would call the parent ahead of time and ask to speak for a few minutes when the parent picks up or drops of their child, that way the parent is planning for it.

Q: What was your program’s arrival routine? Did staff greet each student?

A: All children took a school bus to and from camp.  Two YMCA counselors rode on the bus each way.  One counselor was responsible for attendance and discussions with parents, while the other was responsible for engaging the children and ensuring they maintained safe behavior on the bus.

We managed a ratio of 1 to 10. There was never more than 10 students getting on or off at a bus stop, so there was always one counselor with about 10 students on the bus, and one counselor with about 10 students managing attendance and discussions with parents. If there are ever more than 20 students on a bus, we would add an additional staff member to assist.

Q: What activities were available for youth to engage in once they arrived on site?


A: We began each day with an Opening Ceremony – during this time we reflected on the night before, which we call “Share Out”, went over the schedule for the day, sang our welcome song, walked through the riddle of the day, and selected a student leader of the day, which was based on previous day’s behavior. After Opening Ceremony the children transition to bathrooms, breakfast snack, and ELA.


For the student leader of the day, we are looking for students who are doing more and going out of their way to help their peers, whether it’s during an enrichment activity or academics. A student could also be chosen if they fought through something and had a really great day in spite of it.


For the riddle of the day, students receive the riddle at the beginning of the day. Each group would work together throughout the day to try to solve it. Then, before the closing ceremony, the group leader would have to hand their answer in. If the group got it correct they would be recognized and win a small prize, such as stickers.

At the end of the day we always select a camper of the day from each group, so every single group would be able to pick someone that had an all-star day, in addition to having a leader of the day.


Overall, we have a variety of activities and incentives to hit every type of kid and get them excited. We always get ready for the day and close out the day together so they feel like there is that start and end.

Q: If your program was having issues with a student arriving late, how was that addressed?


A: Students arriving late is not an issue because of the way our bus transportation system to the camp is structured. If students are late and miss the bus, they do not come to camp. There are a few parents that are willing to drive all the way up to camp, but they all live in the city and do not all have cars, so this is not always an option.


If a student is driven in and was late, we did not penalize them. If they wanted to drive in, then we were glad to have them. But, with the parent having to drive and possibly be late to work, spending the gas money, and the child having to miss out on some of the morning routines, they tended to learn the lesson on their own. If we did not have the bus system, some additional punishment for being late would probably have been necessary.

Q: How would you apply this practice to different age groups?


A: Last year, every camper was a 4th grader going into 5th grade. If we had a different age group, activities would have to be altered. For example, if we worked with kindergartners, the activities would involve much more movement.


If the students were older than 4th and 5th grade, we would have allowed them to have more leadership and choice in the activities that we did. Activities would have been facilitated by students, rather than staff. But, because we worked with a specific age group, we intentionally planned the program to meet their needs. We wanted there to be reflection, dialogue, discussion, team building, self-confidence, and for the students to feel like they were making a connection to one another and the camp.


YMCA Camp Ponkapoag’s program is part of the Summer Learning Project that was established with BPS and BASB. The program had a control and participant group to learn about this model of summer learning in a traditional camp-based setting, and integrated with formal curricula in ELA and Math, led by certified teachers. The program’s goal is to reduce summer learning loss and to close the achievement gap for kids that were participating.