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Counselor-in-Training Programs Help Campers Learn Leadership Skills



Leaders in training at the JCC Camps at Medford.

For campers who want to become counselors, counselor-in-training (CIT) programs are an opportunity to learn important life skills, including leadership, first aid, and bullying prevention. In the transition from middle-schooler to high-school student, CITs can enjoy the camp environment while getting the skills they will need to be successful, empathetic, and responsible counselors.
 

“CIT programs are an introduction to being a leader and mentor for others,” says Tom Rosenberg, American Camp Association president. “These are emerging adults interested in having more responsibility and a quiver of skills they can apply to work opportunities as they get older.”

While it is possible to become a counselor at many camps without official CIT training, most camps prefer counselors with some formal training. CIT programs differ in length, from one summer to several. Fees vary as well, so check each camp’s website for details.

The transition from camper to counselor

The JCC Camps at Medford call their training program LIT – leaders in training, “because so much of what the kids do is about leadership training,” says Sara Sideman, assistant director of the JCC Camps at Medford. “We want them to really grow as young adults and that gap summer between middle school and high school is a life-changing summer.”

LITs spend one summer in the program, receiving on-the-job training under the supervision of a counselor, in a bunk, a specialty program, or at the pool. In addition, they learn about social justice by designing their own service program.

“There’s a big transition between being a camper and a staff member and this is an opportunity for them to see and learn the staff side of camp,” says Sideman. “It’s a year for them to learn and grow.”

That certainly happened for Adena B. who was 14 when she attended the LIT program, says her mom, Dorie, from Cherry Hill. “I saw her make the transition from being a camper to where she was now responsible for other kids,” she says. “It took her to the next level of growing up and relating to kids on a different level.”

Now 17 and a counselor, Adena recognizes the value in that training. “We learned a lot of leadership skills and how to interact with the campers and counselors,” she recalls. “We learned communication skills and how to deal with certain situations we might face that we wouldn’t expect.”

For example, she discovered that getting 4- and 5-year-olds to focus on moving from one activity to the next is accomplished more easily when the kids are singing or enjoying themselves through the transition.

CITs shadow counselors to learn the ropes

The University of Delaware Cooperative Extension CIT program gives the 13- to 15-year-olds skills training in the morning and work with campers in the afternoon. CITs are assigned to individual groups where they shadow counselors.

“They learn the traditions of camp, about leadership, communicating and working with the campers,” says Betsy Morris, educator for 4-H youth development for the cooperative extension. Team-building events take place off campus, at a rock-climbing wall or on canoe and kayak trips.
 

“These are life skills which they can use for resume building and maybe future employment,” says Morris.

Leadership training a key part of CIT

Noah S., 15, spent four summers, from ages 12 through 15, as a CIT at Lavner Camps. With a passion for Minecraft and robotics, the Narberth teen helped younger campers with technical projects. At the same time, he learned patience and how to be a team player as well as lead his young charges.

“I learned how to work with other people which was huge, because I used to never want or need any help,” said Noah. He also learned how to handle challenges as they arose.

“I remember one time where we just had to roll with it,” he says. “We had 15 campers and the internet wasn’t working.” While keeping his campers calm, he helped find and connect Ethernet cables and get everyone back online.

Terri Akman is a contributing writer to MetroKids.

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