I recently read an article from the American Camp Association about a research organization that is measuring the social emotional learning outcomes of summer camp programs. What interested me most in reading the article was not the research about how camp helps campers develop and practice social emotional learning skills, but one specific note in the article:
Research also tells us that effective learning environments are ones where kids have a sense of physical and emotional well-being, a strong sense of belonging, and are engaged — affectively (interest, fun, enthusiasm), behaviorally (active participation), and cognitively (reflecting, making choices, having opportunities to give input) (Conner & Pope, 2013; Osterman, 2000).
In talking with parents and professionals about camp, the concept of being in a community where teens with learning differences or Asperger’s syndrome feel emotionally safe, understood, and have a sense of belonging, is one of the most important things we can provide to our campers. We truly believe in the power of finding your “tribe” as a tool to create better social emotional learning outcomes.
For teens with learning differences and Asperger’s, most of their year is spent trying to fit in communities that aren’t specifically designed for them. In school, they are given the benefit of a structured schedule, however they are among a group of teens who are more socially savvy than they are which creates an environment where they are constantly struggling to fit in. At home, they may have the benefit of being understood, but it is challenging to set up a really structured environment that our campers thrive in.
In addition, there are many college prep summer programs for teens that are soon to enter college. Many of these programs do a great job of teaching post-secondary life skills, study skills for college, vocational skills, and in some cases teens will walk away with college credit. Social activities may be included as part of the program, too. However, the structure of these activities and the peers may not be set up specifically for teens with learning differences and Asperger’s syndrome to thrive.
Insert Beyond Akeela. Beyond Akeela gives teens with learning differences and Asperger’s a community they feel a sense of ownership over and socially engaged in. There are two key components that make this happen.
- Our experienced and well trained staff understands how to facilitate connections between campers and we boast a ratio of better than 1:3 staff to camper. This allows us to build relationships with each camper and individualize our approach to their social success at camp.
- The group of campers that we bring together for the summer. Each camper comes to us fitting a similar profile, which is socially quirky teen who is academically successful, and needing additional support socially to thrive.
The socially engaging community we’ve created provides an avenue for us to foster positive social emotional learning outcomes, as well as outcomes related to post-secondary life skills, too. Our teens thrive when they know what to expect, know what is expected of them, and feel a true sense of belonging.