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Jun 2, 2008, 11:27 AM

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by Alicia Kaul

The Playbill

Dante: Speaks only in whines, would fight the wind if he could see it, has an affinity for cuss words, and can tattle-tale with the best of them.

DeQuandis: Sent home last year for fighting; seems to have a fighting reflex instead of a gag reflex; teases; and bullies.

Andre: "Fights, steals, runs away, does not respect authority, uses foul language, and lies . . . . " and this is all according to his Grandma who filled out his camper information sheet.

Jamal: Fast and furious, will hit you and be gone before you can turn around to see who it was. Then, he will look you in the eye and deny hitting you in the first place.

Tyler: Looks sweet and innocent, but looks can be deceiving. Sent home last year for fighting, mouths cuss words to other campers while he's giving you a hug — as sneaky as they come.

Montrell: Follower, starts fights then tells his older brother so he can finish off the fight for him.

Above is the playbill of kids in my group, but it would probably be more accurate to call it their rap sheet, and below is the story of boys learning to be boys.

For the last session of the summer, these six boys were assigned to me. On the first day, working together, we created the Full Value Contract:

  1. No fighting;
  2. No name calling;
  3. Listen to your counselors;
  4. Respect each other;
  5. Don't touch each other's stuff; and
  6. Have fun.

Within the first three hours it was apparent that the kids were really good at #6. Unfortunately, it meant breaking the first five rules to get there. It was obvious that things needed to change, or this session would be a wash and at least three of them would be sent home.

After the next morning meal, I wrote on a large sheet of paper several rules, and I defined rewards for following these rules:
  • We will be eating on the front porch until we have two meals in a row where you can show respect to each other and your counselors.
  • No Frogs. (A side note here is that my kids loved frogs and were begging to get a tank and keep them in the cabin.)
  • Lights out immediately after evening activity.

  • Each camper signed this paper, agreeing to these new rules and rewards. I would like to say as soon as these rules were written my kids changed their act, but that would be a blatant lie, it was a slow and painful process. I was beginning to feel run down—eight days and I felt little progress.

    I kept saying, "Just one of you, that's all I'm asking. Just one of you step up and be respectful for an entire day." That evening I got my wish; I got it six-fold. Each kid took that challenge, stepped up, and showed respect. During the evening activity, my kids weren't the ones causing trouble, they weren't fighting or cussing, my kids were the ones listening and participating.

    That night, we celebrated with a campfire. For the first time that session I saw ten-year-old boys acting like ten-year-old boys. They were playing with each other and talking about which superhuman power they would pick if they could pick any.

    My kids continued to be a challenge through the remainder of the eleven-day session, and I continued to challenge them to change, to be leaders, and make something of themselves. The day they left all six begged to stay. What they were really begging for was an opportunity to remain ten-year old boys, to feel safe, and loved.

    I've written a new playbill for my cabin, it's the one I sent home with them . . . .

    The Last Act

    Dante: It's a funny thing when you love something you are terrified of (frogs), but Dante faced his fear and became a fearless frog hunter.

    DeQuandis: DeQuandis would do something nice and then quickly tell you he did something nice. The more positive attention he received, the more he wanted to do nice things.

    Andre: I told Andre he was like King Solomon from the Bible. Andre had an insight and a brilliance I have never seen before in any child.

    Jamal: Jamal was pure energy, and best of all his energy was contagious. He could make you laugh when laughing is the last thing you want to do.

    Tyler: Tyler had determination and drive, if he truly wanted something, there was nothing that could stand in his way.

    Montrell: Montrell had a twinkle in his eyes all the time and would surprise you with a hug when you least expected it. He was, by far, the saddest to leave camp.

    These are my kids. Perfect they are not, but trying hard to change their act is something they learned to do. To trust, to respect, and to love — that is what my kids learned at camp.

    Alicia Kaul is a registered nurse at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin. She has spent the last five summers as a nurse and/or counselor at Camp Helen Brachman in Almond, Wisconsin.

    Originally published in the 2005 November/December issue of Camping Magazine.

    This Camping Magazine article is reproduced with the permission of the American Camp Association.

    American Camp Association
    5000 State Road 67 North
    Martinsville, IN 46151-7902
    Map to ACA
    Phone: 765-342-8456
    Fax: 765-342-2065

    (This post was edited by ACACamps on Jun 2, 2008, 11:51 AM)


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