The Beyond Akeela Circular Spring edition is here! For an introduction letter from Kristin, information about camp forms, parent communication, itinerary updates, and important reminders to get your family prepared for camp this summer, please read through this newsletter with your teen soon.
We are excited and honored to announce that Beyond Akeela has been recognized as a recipient of the Eleanor P. Eells Award for Program Excellence by the American Camp Association national office! Here’s an excerpt from the ACA’s website that explains what the Eleanor Eells Award represents:
Eleanor P. Eells Awards for Program Excellence are designed to honor camp programs that:
- Develop effective, creative responses to the needs of people and/or societal problems using the camp environment,
- Encourage continued development of such ideas,
- Stimulate the exchange of creative ideas, and/or
- Present to the public examples of positive contributions camp has made on the well being of individuals and society.
We hear from so many teens and parents that the challenging part of the transition to college is not keeping up with academic course load, but rather the ability of students to advocate for themselves, build meaningful connections, and stay organized. Beyond Akeela was designed to build those skill sets as our campers transition from high school to college and the workforce. At Beyond Akeela, teens practice self-advocacy, executive function, and practical independent living skills in a college environment, while having the support of their peers and a group of staff mentors to guide them along the way. Beyond Akeela campers are further immersed in a group of teens like themselves with whom they form incredible and life-long social connections with.
We are proud of the success so many Beyond Akeela teens have had as they transition to their post-secondary lives. Beyond Akeela started in 2011 with its roots at Camp Akeela in Vermont and has adapted over the years to best support our teens. We have truly learned from each summer and meeting and sharing with other transition programs, all of which has helped Beyond Akeela turn into the program it is today.
Asperger’s summer tour: Summer 2018 Highlights – Beyond Akeela’s Travel
Beyond Akeela teens across the board loved traveling together for their last week of camp. Asperger’s summer travel tours have the opportunity to be transformative experience for teens that have challenges making social connections with peers. What makes Beyond Akeela’s travel opportunities different from other Asperger’s summer travel tours is the community we build BEFORE we travel. Two weeks are spent facilitating social connection through a variety of structured camp activities and some of what teens love: unstructured free time to just hang out with each other! Through these two weeks, which also include some travel like an overnight camping trip and day trips to Green Bay and Sheboygan, Beyond Akeela teens form friendships that last a lifetime and find their tribe. Having a group of friends that feels like a family makes traveling a much more fruitful experience. Here are some of the highlights from this summer’s travel:
Need we say more? The Waterpark Capital of the World never disappoints! An afternoon at Noah’s Ark waterpark followed by an evening exploring downtown Wisconsin Dells made for some happy teens this summer. It gave them a chance simply to be teens and hang out independently with their best camp friends.
A night under the stars, surrounded by the smell of campfire, campers singing their favorite camp songs, and of course, s’mores! That’s what camp and travel is all about. New friendships formed and old bonds continued to strengthen right in front of our eyes. A nice cherry on top was an awesome white water rafting trip!
The Beyond Akeela trip ends in Chicago with a three night stay right in the downtown loop. Within walking distance to hot spots like the Chicago Cultural Center and Millennium Park, we had a chance to see the best of what Chicago has to offer. The favorites this summer were the Lincoln Park Zoo, Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum, and going sky-high at the SkyDeck for a 360 view overlooking the city we just explored together.
So why travel? Traveling gets you out of your comfort zone. It forces you to adapt to new settings, and quickly. Traveling challenges you to think on your feet, and think independently. When you travel with your best camp friends, this skill growth is magnified, and the bonds with your friends are strengthened more than you imagined possible. These are all valuable skills that teens with Asperger’s syndrome are working on, and we love seeing the development of them right before our eyes every summer.
NVLD Teen Transition Program: Summer Highlights 2018 College Readiness
Many families ask us how camp prepares 11th and 12th graders for college. Why not get a job? Or go to a summer program that focuses on academics? These are valid questions, as both of those summer options will no doubt help prepare teens for college. What camp provides to teens social confidence, executive function and self-advocacy support, and practice living on a college campus. Beyond Akeela, and NVLD teen camp in the Midwest, is intentionally designed to focus on all three of these lofty goals.
Many teens tell us that making and keeping friends at home isn’t always easy. The social pressure in high school can be a lot to handle, and being quirky can magnify those social challenges in a neuro-typical world. Creating a space where teens can find social success and be surrounded by peers similar to them breeds social confidence that didn’t exist before. One of the scariest parts of college is wondering, “Will I fit in there?” Beyond Akeela gives teens the confidence of having a socially successful experience and lifelong friends.
Executive Function & Self-Advocacy
In talking to many professionals in higher education, it’s clear that self-advocacy and executive function are two of the most essential skills for any college student to be successful. For students who learn differently especially, advocating for learning services in college and staying organized are imperative. At Beyond Akeela, a NVLD teen camp in the Midwest, we build these skills inherently through our camp schedule rather than a classroom setting.
An NVLD teen camp in the Midwest gives teens the chance to practice college living without the academic rigors of a full course load. Living with a roommate in a dorm and practicing skills. Like laundry and cooking give teens a sense of what living on a college campus will feel like. It creates comfort in an otherwise unfamiliar setting. Beyond Akeela campers often learn best by doing, by practicing a skill that may not otherwise come naturally to them.
Here is what our families had to say about their teens after a summer of Beyond Akeela:
“We definitely see greater signs of maturity and independence, which was one of our goals in sending him to Beyond Akeela.”
“Beyond Akeela has become an integral part of Thomas’s maturity. Thomas always mentions that this was one of the keys to his life moving forward in the right way. Now he is a freshman at a university, and we couldn’t be happier or more proud of him.”
NVLD Teen Camp Midwest Summer 2018 highlights: Community Service
As a NVLD teen camp in the Midwest, community service is an essential part of the Beyond Akeela program. Teens have the opportunity to take on meaningful service projects that simulate real world job experience. They further get to CHOOSE the project they are interested in from a selection of organizations in the area. Here are a few highlights from the community service program this summer:
Appleton Public Library
Our more literarily inclined campers walked to the local library to volunteer their time and follow their passions. They had opportunities to see the inner workings of a major public library supporting a large metropolitan area in the Midwest and lend a helping hand in certain areas of need. Beyond Akeela volunteers shelved books, cleaned discs, and set up programs for children in the community!
YMCA Day Camps
Campers who want to work with children for a career had the opportunity to volunteer at the YMCA day camp for school aged children and the sports day camp. Beyond Akeela teens raved about how much fun they had being COUNSELORS for a change, and valued the experience as it related to their career aspirations.
Lawrence University Dining Hall
We were grateful to the dining hall team for allowing our campers to support their mission and gain some very valuable experience. For teens interested in the culinary world, they had a chance to see what it takes to make a large commercial kitchen run, and got their hands dirty with dishwashing and dining area set up. Further, they had a few opportunities to help with dessert prep for lunches.
The meaningful community service program was such a success for our teens this summer. They came back from each morning of work with smiles on their face. And they are energized from the sense of accomplishment they had. They bragged to each other how much work their group completed (in appropriate ways of course!). We can’t wait to continue creating these opportunities for our teens at Beyond Akeela. A NVLD teen camp in the Midwest.
The Beyond Akeela Circular Spring edition is here! For an intro to Aaron Schultz (our Beyond Akeela Head Counselor), important information about camp forms, itinerary details, and other reminders to get everyone in your family prepared for camp this summer, please read through this newsletter with your camper soon.
Prepare your teen for life after 18 – A young adult transition program
Interested in learning more about Beyond Akeela? You’re in luck! We just posted our recent Beyond Akeela virtual information session. Beyond Akeela’s director, Kevin Trimble, and Akeela co-founder, Eric Sasson, walk the audience through the Beyond Akeela experience. Everything from the big picture philosophy of the program to a day in the life of camp is covered in the 40 minute presentation.
Here’s a brief synopsis:
- Beyond Akeela was born out of a summer camp program for younger teens that Eric and Debbie help create called Camp Akeela. That is a camp that specializes and is really intentional about helping young people with Asperger’s syndrome or NLD build and maintain friendships. Beyond Akeela takes the magic and intention from that camp environment to build a program that is appropriate for pre-college teens with Asperger’s or NLD.
- Beyond Akeela blends elements of a traditional summer camp focused on social skills growth and community, a classic teen tour, and a summer college transition program with a focus on post-secondary options.
- Beyond Akeela has a home base at Lawrence University in Appleton, WI. Lawrence is a small community oriented liberal arts college, and in their summer months they don’t have any students on campus for classes. It’s a great location to work on college transition and social skills for teens with Asperger’s and NLD in the summer.
- Breakfast will always be in the campus dining hall. The food services team is great about providing options for all types of eaters at each meal. The dining hall publishes the menu in advance, so we always preview what’s available for each meal.
- After breakfast, you’ll start prepping for your day. Beyond Akeela teens have more independence and responsibility in this part of their day.
- AM Activities: see article on Beyond Akeela activities for more information o Lunch will be either at the campus dining hall, or sometimes when we travel or go out for the day, we’ll have a picnic lunch at a park.
- We try to incorporate an afternoon rest hour into our schedule as much as we can. We know that rest, especially for teens, can be really important!
- PM Activities: see article on Beyond Akeela activities for more information o Once we’ve gone through our activities for the day, it’s time for downtime around campus. Teens can make a quick trip to the health/wellness center for a workout, play a card game in the dorm lounge, or find another activity that helps them recharge.
- Most of our meals will be in the campus dining hall as a large group. There will be a couple nights during camp when teens are responsible for cooking a meal with a small group of friends. There will also be nights when we go out to eat, as a way to celebrate our success at camp.
- We’ll get together each night as a group and have a brief evening meeting. This is an important community gathering time for our group to reflect on our day together, celebrate and recognize each other’s achievements, and preview the upcoming days of camp.
- We’ll wind down our day of camp with a fun evening activity.
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.
I recently read an article called “See the Able, Do Not Enable,” written by a member of the Life Skills Department at the College Internship Program (CIP). So much of the article resonates with our beliefs on how to support our teens with learning differences. Growing up in a nurturing home and camp community can sometimes lead teens to ask for help before thinking about how they can solve the problem on hand. There are a few great takeaways from the article.
It’s important to remember the age of the teens we are working with. Are we helping them by responding to every request for assistance? If independence is the goal, then we have to use questions from our teens as teachable moments. As a parent or counselor, we have to remind ourselves to think about how each question can turn into a teaching opportunity. At Beyond Akeela, we train our staff to scaffold their involvement in these situations to help our teens practice independence. For example, a staff member may first respond to a call for help with a guided question to help the teen find the answer to their challenge. The next time a similar situation comes up, that staff member can refer back to the previous instance and challenge the camper to think of a solution independently. The goal is to give guided feedback to the campers and help them become a better self-advocate, while not holding their hand through the process.
Another challenge that comes with this is meeting our teens on their level. Everyone learns differently, a different paces and in different styles. Many campers at Beyond Akeela have learning challenges and may benefit from creativity in how we approach teaching them. Sometimes that means adjusting our expectations for progress in mastery of a new concept, and thinking about how important what we are trying to teach actually is.
This article really hits home the benefit of camp, because camp creates opportunities for learning and succeeding independently from parents or caregivers, while also having a safety net of advisors to prevent total failure. When a teen realizes they can have success in something independently, we have noticed it greatly increases the chances they will try something new independently in the future. The more we can create situations to help our campers with learning differences be successful in independent settings, the better!
I just read an article about the affect smartphones have on our emotional intelligence and mental health from the Atlantic ( Article link). I highly recommend looking through the article. It’s a long read and won’t leave you feeling warm and fuzzy. I feel it’s a really important read for parents and teens alike.
The overarching theme of the article is that the use of smartphones is causing more loneliness in teens and less face-to-face interaction. While teens in theory are more connected now more than ever because of their phones. They report feeling more left out too. They are finding it hard to connect with peers in person after their on screen interactions. There is obviously a huge disconnect in this case. The article also notes that the biggest effect is shown in teenage girls.
The exorbitant use of cell phones by teens is also resulting in less independent teenagers. That does not necessarily mean teens are spending more time with their families. But rather spending more time in their rooms connecting with others through their phones. Results of this include a drop in dating rates, and also a drop in driver’s licenses obtained by of age teenagers. Teens are not being set up for success in their adulthood through their phones.
Aspergers teen camp
The challenges smart phones present to the generation the author dubs, “iGen” are only magnified for teens on the autism spectrum or with a learning difference. These teens already struggle to navigate in-person social situations inherently, and their phones are not necessarily helping them long term. Limiting screen time is an important thing to consider for anyone. That can be especially true for teens with Asperger’s syndrome. While it may be a difficult task to remove a boy or girl addicted to their screen from that very thing. It is an important step to help them become happier and more independent people.
The Beyond Akeela teen summer transition program that works on post-secondary life skills places an emphasis on removing screens from the social experience of our teens. We tell our camp families and teens that it’s really hard to make a friend through a screen. This article certainly does a good job of explaining why that is!