by Paula M. Riley

ESF Day Camp

Twenty-three years ago, Michael Rouse, executive director and co-founder of ESF(Education, Sports and Fun) Summer Camps, got a call from Sister Kathleen Pales, then assistant principal of Norwood-Fontbonne Academy.

She wanted to know if Rouse would be interested in running his camp at Norwood-Fontbonne.   When he told her that the campers needed a swimming pool, the Sister of Saint Joseph replied that she would work out a deal with the other Sisters of Saint Joseph so the campers could use their swimming pool.
Her negotiations worked. For more than two decades, ESF camps were held at Norwood-Fontbonne Academy.   Tall cloth teepees with colorful designs sat in the yard outside the academy’s Fontbonne campus at Sunset and Norwood avenues. Sounds of children laughing and playing echoed throughout NFA’s hallways, outdoor play areas and pool.

In 2008, NFA began its Reaching Our Dream Capital Project, which involved renovations at both the Fontbonne and Norwood (Germantown Avenue) campus.  These improvements included new classrooms, upgraded classrooms, an air-conditioned building, a high-tech science laboratory, a state-of-the-art computer center, and a multi-purpose Commons building hosting a stage, gymnasium, cafeteria, and kitchen facilities.

During these renovations, ESF moved its Chestnut Hill camp to Chestnut Hill College.  This summer, ESF returns to Norwood-Fontbonne Academy where it will use the academy’s 14-acre campus including a renovated pool, three gymnasiums, playgrounds, fields, and air-conditioned classrooms.  Chestnut Hill College fields will be utilized as well.

“We are delighted that ESF is returning to NFA,” said Sister Mary Helen Beirne, NFA head of school.  “We want our campuses to have the same energy in the summer that our children have during the school year. ESF brings that!”

ESF hosts a broad range of summer programs for boys and girls, ages 4-16. Offering art, academics, dance, sports, leadership and cultural opportunities, Michael Rouse, executive director and co-founder, believes, “We have our hand on the pulse of what children want.”
With so many programs, campers can pick and choose how they want to spend their camp days.   Younger children in the Day Camp enjoy swimming, fine art, crafts, science, performing arts, and more.

At Multi-Sports Camp, young athletes receive individualized and group instruction in different sports.  Children ages 9-15 are challenged at Senior Camp where they experience a different True Life Adventure each week.

During Major Camp, students, ages 10-16, enjoy a three-week immersion experience as they explore specific areas of study such as forensics, law, medicine or leadership.

“We believe that Major Camp empowers young adolescents to dream and envision themselves in potential careers,” Beirne said.  “It fits well with our focus at NFA to develop self-directed persons.”

Formerly called Innovation Project, Major Camp is designed to unleash children’s talents and passions in a fun and exciting environment.  “Hands-on” is the theme of Major Camps where industry leaders host challenging, thought-provoking discussions and exercises.

Campers enjoy field trips, leadership development, team building challenges and initiatives and real-world problem solving exercises.

Gina Smith is a former assistant district attorney in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office and a partner in the Litigation Department at Ballard Spahr.  She serves on the Advisory Board of Major Camp and participates in the Law and Justice Major Camp.

With a combination of pride and awe, Rouse noted that there were 10-year-olds in her class discussing a criminal case.  They did it with such confidence and sophistication; — the dialogue was absolutely profound.”

Rouse credits the success of this program to dynamic speakers, relevant field trips, rich curriculum and enthusiastic staff. Explaining that many children would not be able to experience this type of immersion program until college, Rouse believes Major Camp cultivates a curiosity for the world and a desire to explore passions and interests.

Like all of the camp programs, the curriculum at Major Camp changes every summer. ESF’s full-time team of professionals work year-round to ensure programs, games, science projects, art activities and everything the campers experience is new and exciting.  Incorporating 21st century learning skills and leveraging a network of thought leaders in behavioral modification, child development, business, psychology, nutrition, and project-based learning, ESF curriculum remains relevant, interesting and exciting.

Lee Brower is founder of The Quadrant Living Experience LLC, an internationally recognized educational and philanthropic organization that was recently featured in the hit film “The Secret.”  He is an ESF Advisory Board member and thought leader whose invaluable insights on gratitude have contributed to the ESF philosophy and curriculum.

In addition to leveraging cutting-edge business, child behavior and educational philosophies, ESF is constantly reevaluating the effectiveness of its programs.

“We are our worst critic,” Rouse said.  “We regularly survey our families, change curriculum and change our staff to stay ahead of the game. …We want kids to have the best possible experience. We want to ensure their summer is one they will never forget.”

ESF and NFA are hosting an open house on Sunday, March 6, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Norwood-Fontbonne Academy, 8891 Germantown Ave. Parents and children are welcome to meet with counselors and learn more about ESF’s exciting summer offering.

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