Special Needs Teen Tour Traveler

At Beyond Akeela we love to help encourage our travelers to develop personal skills that will help them throughout their lives. At Beyond Akeela we love to help encourage our travelers to develop personal skills that will help them throughout their lives. We never lose focus of our goal which is to help foster a learning environment that is fun and teaches many life skills that will help grow the Special Needs Teen Tour traveler’s life. Our Teen Tours focus on things like Increasing amounts of independence and responsibility, Wilderness opportunities that help campers learn more about who they are and all that they are capable of, real-world practice of planning & prioritizing, time management, organization, flexibility, task initiation, involvement and ownership of their own experience. Beyond Akeela provides special needs teens the opportunity to get out of their normal area for the summer and explore the world around them. It will enable them to prepare for life after high school. Many special needs teens who have traveled with us on a Beyond Akeela teen travel program are heading to college or a post-secondary program and need the practice in order to start off their young adult life successfully. Beyond Akeela’s Special Needs Teen Tour Travel Program is a chance for teens to become more independent. They learn to be more flexible as they travel from place to place. They learn important life skills such as food preparation (including menu planning, making a shopping list, shopping in a grocery store and finally, cooking a meal), laundry, budget planning, and setting an alarm to attend a morning meeting. Perhaps one of the most important things that our Teen Tours provide to our traveler’s is the opportunity to meet other teens from all over the country who share similar interests and life experiences. Teens Travelers with Beyond Akeela make life-long friends and form connections that make them feel valued and part of a community.

ASD Teen Travel: Meet the Travel Staff

We’re excited to introduce you to the adults who will be leading our ASD teen travel and college prep program this summer. For starters, the Beyond Akeela travel Director is Nicholas Korn:

I am so excited to experience all the adventures and growth that ASD Teens will have this summer. A little bit about myself… I am currently an Inclusion Specialist at a middle school in Tucson, Arizona. I have been teaching for over four years now, and have worked in special education for almost ten years. In May of 2015, I received my Masters degree in Special Education with an emphasis in severe and multiple disabilities. I love what I do, and can’t wait to take this next step in my life.

Along with the young adults and advisors in Beyond Akeela, I will be experiencing new things and facing new challenges during this summer. I am so thrilled to be leading this trip this summer, and am counting the days until we get started.

((Learn more about Nick here)

Working with Nick will be three or four additional staff members. Here are a few words from some of them:

Chelsea Chapman –
I grew up in Springfield, Ohio with my mom, dad, and two younger siblings. As of May 2016 I will have completed a Bachelors of Science degree from Ohio University in Communication Sciences and Disorders. Last summer I completed a three month internship in Quito, Ecuador working with the United to Benefit Ecuadorian Children Foundation. The goal of this program was to get children enrolled in school and provide academic assistance to children in rural, under-served communities. In my free time I like taking long walks with my beloved Pomeranian puppy, Tuck, and reading books on the hammock in my backyard.

I am beyond excited to begin my first year with Beyond Akeela and look forward to meeting you all very soon!

Favorite Book: Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Place I’d Like to Visit: Spain

Mick Sibley –
I live in Columbus, Ohio where I’m finishing my final undergraduate semester studying psychology at The Ohio State University. I’m also currently in the process of applying to graduate programs in school counseling and developmental psychology. When not in class, I work at the Ohio State Child Care Center as a student aide in an inclusive environment with children from infancy through preschool. I recently spent a semester doing an internship in various Columbus public and private schools where I had the opportunity to work with a very diverse population of students. These experiences led me to pursue a position with Beyond Akeela. I’m excited to work with this wonderful group of people!

Prior to my college years, I spent six years working in the United States Air Force as an aircraft electrician and was stationed in Texas, Delaware, South Carolina, Georgia and Okinawa, Japan. In my spare time I enjoy cycling, hiking, traveling, learning photography, reading and spending time with my friends, family and dog, Daisy.

Favorite Book: The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan
Place I’d Like To Visit: Scotland

Jody Johnson –
I live in California and am currently working as a school nurse at Plumas Unified School District in Northern California. This has been my career for the past 25 years, and I worked with all ages from preschool to college students, along with special needs populations. Working at schools is great, as it also allows me to be a camp nurse during my summers! I’ve been a camp nurse for 12 years, three of which were with Camp Akeela!

I’m married to my wonderful husband, Elliott, and we have two adult children together. We enjoy hiking with our dog, Tilly, in the back country, biking, cross-country skiing, traveling, reading, quilting, and hanging with our four cats in front of the fireplace on a rainy day, including Baloo (a Camp Akeela alumni!).

Favorite Book: All the Light We Can Not See by Anthony Doerr
Place I’d Like to Visit: Croatia

Is Beyond Akeela a Teen Tour?

Autistic Teen Tour BostonWe started the Beyond Akeela program in 2011 and for its first three summers, it was quite different from the travel experience we’re offering now. At the time, participants lived at Akeela, our children’s summer camp in Vermont, for the full three and half week camp session (with the exception of a 5-day trip towards the end of the session.) It was kind of a hybrid between an oldest camper summer, a counselor-in-training program and post-secondary skills practice experience.

Beginning in 2014, based on lots of feedback from past participants, we transformed Beyond Akeela into a true travel program. It was clear that we could make the experience much more fun – and achieve our goals more directly – if we took Akeela “on the road!” It’s been a huge success and a really exciting thing to be a part of.

One question that I’ve been wrestling with since the moment we started talking about the “new” Beyond Akeela is whether or not to call it a Teen Tour. Frankly, it’s a term I’ve been avoiding as much as possible. On one hand, there is clearly a need for more teen travel programs that understand and accommodate kids who learn differently or need some extra social support. We’ve done lots of Google searching for terms like Special Needs Teen Tours and Asperger’s Teen Tour … and there’s not much out there! So, in a sense, I think Beyond Akeela is filling a much-needed niche for independent and smart, but “quirky”, young adults who don’t want to pile into a bus with 50 other teenagers with whom they don’t have a lot in common (not to mention lower staff-to-camper ratios and less attention paid to helping participants succeed socially.)

On the other hand, the term Teen Tour (even when combined with words like “quirky” or “autism spectrum” or “special needs”) connotes TO ME something far different from what’s happening on Beyond Akeela. I picture bus tours and flights to fantastic destinations with amusement parks and fancy hotels. Of course, I know that the best teen tour companies are also offering a variety of outdoor adventure and community service trips – and those are awesome opportunities for teenagers to learn, grow and give back. Yet, I still shy away from that association for Beyond Akeela. We also visit incredible places, do our share of sight-seeing, and even offer an option to visit an amusement park! However, all of that is wrapped in a very intentional focus on building friendships and preparing teens for life after high school. The Beyond Akeela staff uses each component of their itinerary to challenge participants in new ways. Sometimes that’s as simple as facilitating conversations while en route to a destination; other times is takes the form of game or challenge that builds executive functioning skills, money sense, health awareness, college choices, job readiness … and I could go on and on.

So is Beyond Akeela a teen tour? I’m working on being okay with calling it that … but I’m hoping that we can agree it’s much more than that, too!

Developing Teen Social Skills

Teen Social SkillsDeveloping Teen Social Skills is a very valuable and worthwhile investment. This is one of the many things that Beyond Akeela will do for your teen. Beyond Akeela’s Teenage Summer Camps helps to insure the best possible opportunities for success of your quirky teen.

The most recent issue of the American Camp Association’s Camping Magazine included a news item titled, “Five Soft Skills Needed for Job Success”. It referred to the following study published by Child Trends:

Key “Soft Skills” That Foster Youth Workforce Success: Toward a Consensus Across Fields (Laura H. Lippman, Renee Ryberg, Rachel Carney, Kristin A. Moore, 2015) *

Other educators are becoming increasingly aware of something that camp directors have known for generations: that “soft skills” are equally – if not MORE – important to a successful academic and professional careers as mastery of the more traditional school subjects. The Child Trends study referenced by Camping Magazine set out to more precisely define which skills are most closely correlated to positive workforce outcomes (including employment, on-the-job performance, wages and entrepreneurial success). Here are the top 5:

  • Social Skills – getting along with others, demonstrating respect, context-appropriate behavior and conflict resolution.
  • Communication – including oral, written, nonverbal and listening skills.
  • Higher-order thinking skills – problem-solving, critical thinking and decision making.
  • Self-control – delaying gratification, impulse control, paying attention, regulating emotions & behaviors.
  • Positive self-concept – self-confidence, self-awareness, sense of well-being & pride

(These, by the way, align closely with what the 21st Century Skills movement has identified as the all-important 4 Cs: Creativity, Critical Thinking, Collaboration and Communication.)

What’s most notable to us is that this are precisely the skills that we teach at Beyond Akeela. In fact, we couldn’t come up with a more accurate list of our explicit goals for campers if we tried! We see every moment of each camp day – whether it’s a structured camp activity, a meal, or “hang-out” time in the cabins – as an opportunity for our amazing staff to help campers develop their skillset in each of these areas. Our immediate objective in doing so is to have campers leave camp more connected, happier, more self-aware and self-assured. The fact that we’re also preparing them for greater long-term success in school and in the workforce is a source of great pride for us.

— Debbie, Eric and Kevin

* You can find the summary of the Child Trends’ whitepaper here: http://www.childtrends.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/2015-24AWFCSoftSkillsExecSum.pdf