Camp Harbor View is a four-week long, all day, summer program for students 11 to 14 years old. The program offers opportunities for skill development in athletics, education, arts, and leadership.

Key Takeaways

  • Engagement should be modeled from the top down, starting with the executive director.

  • Students will follow the positive energy of the camp instructors.

  • Staff and students are expected to be able to take positive risks every day.

  • When staff are engaged, the students will be as well.

Q: What are two or three best practices for staff members seeking to promote student engagement during the program day?


A: We have 80 full hours of staff training. Our expectation is that staff are wholeheartedly, enthusiastically, and unreservedly engaged. We expect our staff to participate fully in everything. The expectation that staff are modeling is so key for us. For example, we expect our staff to be in the pool every day, because if the staff are in the pool then the students will be in the pool. But, if staff are sitting on the sidelines, the kids will be sitting on the sidelines. We expect a lot out of our staff.


We try to develop a culture in which staff are engaged the entire day. Staff will have their fifteen minute breaks and their downtime, but, when they are with the students, we will call them out if they are not engaged. We see the effects that this has on the groups. Part of creating an engaging environment is starting at the highest leadership level.


We have a very strong expectation that any of our staff will make an utter fool of themselves at the drop of a hat. As the executive director, I have to be able to go ahead and bust out a rap, which I have no talent at all. The expectation for 11 year old camper all the way up to the executive director is that you’re willing to take positive risks, throw yourself into the experience, and participate fully. We are taking time now to make sure we establish the culture for this summer. By the time the first camper shows up, all of the staff, about 150 people, are believing in this culture, and then it becomes irresistible to campers. They can’t not buy in; it is too much of a tidal wave.

Q: Did your program conduct pre-summer trainings? If so, how was student engagement addressed?


A: Some of our staff training is policy and procedure, and there is some that is CPR and first aid training. But all of it is inspired by fun. For instance in our first aid training tends to be pretty dull, it is tough to get people to focus on it. So, for the last two years we have framed it as the zombie apocalypse. We have staff come in and do full on zombie makeup, with people limping around screaming they “want brains.” In order to cure their “zombie-ism”, you need to provide proper first aid. We are still rigorous about the quality of the skills, but we are doing it in a way that is fun.


During training we also emphasize the idea of experiential learning and modeling it for campers. We have a whole day of training called “Counselor Camp,” in which the entire staff participates. During Counselor Camp, each department director has a chance to run an activity with the entire staff. That way the staff get a chance to experience what the campers experience. It also gets the department directors to practice what it is actually going to be like. It really is modeling from the top down and the expectation that everyone is engaged.

Q: What program design measures allowed staff members to effectively promote student engagement?


A: I go back to staff training and making sure that it starts with the senior team. It needs to be modeled from the top down. In addition though, part of the staff interview and selection process is making sure that they are someone who is going to be capable of that. One of the better interviews I ever had an interviewee started talking about camp songs, and I said, “Would you give me a sample of your camp song?” And she immediately stood up on her chair in her business suit and gave me the full version of this song at the top of her lungs. I know that person is going to have that same level of enthusiasm during camp.


It is important to hire the right people that are going to have enthusiasm, energy, and engagement that we need. Once staff are at camp, they are encouraging and modeling it for the campers. Part of what makes our setting so magical is that we don’t spend any time or energy on negative behaviors. The kids will go wherever the staff energy is.


Camp Harbor View is a summer four-week long day camp program for inner city youth in Boston. The program serves students from ages 11 to 14. The program has full days, with transportation, 3 meals a day, and a variety of activities in 5 different domains. Camp Harbor View offers aquatics, a pool, a variety of boating and harbor activities (such as sailing, kayaking, and surfing). The program offers a variety of athletics, such as basketball and soccer, as well as sports that students might not be familiar with such as yoga and martial arts. In addition, there is a leadership program which includes high ropes, low ropes, and group game initiative, as well as creating programs around specific skill development. The program also offers visual and performing arts opportunities. Finally, students have educational opportunities through Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP). Camp Harbor View is a leadership development camp with three core values, called 123 Lead. The three values are: have fun, respect and responsibility, and character, courage, and community.