New perspective for a summer camp director

by Erin DeVault, Summer Director and Interim Assistant Head of School at AIM Academy
Posted 2/16/23

As summer director and interim assistant head of school at AIM Academy, I wear many hats and go by many names. 

I have watched countless campers line up nervously on the first day of summer, …

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New perspective for a summer camp director


As summer director and interim assistant head of school at AIM Academy, I wear many hats and go by many names. 

I have watched countless campers line up nervously on the first day of summer, only to skip to their cars hours later with smiles on their faces, showing off artwork and stories and newfound enthusiasm for learning. I have listened as parents describe the change they see in their child after just a few short weeks of hands-on learning and research-based instruction. They share things they thought they would never hear from their child. 

“Can I read to you tonight?”

“I think I actually like math!”

“Why didn’t my other teachers explain it this way?!”

However, 12 years in the field of language and literacy intervention and six years as a Summer Program Director, still did not prepare me for my son’s first day of summer at AIM.

As a rising 1st grader coming off a year of remote kindergarten due to the pandemic, reading was coming slowly for him, and for the first time, I experienced the journey of an AIM Summer parent firsthand. The youngest student in the program that year, my son lined up with the others, clutching his little backpack and looking nervously at the doors of a building he had been to many times before “just to visit.” And despite knowing every detail of the program, I watched him join his fellow campers with a lump in my throat.

A very busy first day of camp went by, and I resisted the urge to check in on him any more than any other camper. I saw him from a distance playing at recess and watched him walk through the hall with his classmates, giving me a little wave as he passed. Finally, it was the end of the day and my son ran out with all the others, a smile on his face and a drawing of a kangaroo in his hand. “Did you know that kangaroos live in Australia?! So do koalas, but they’re not bears even though everyone thinks they are! Tomorrow we’re going to do math games and count our pom poms and read another story about koalas! Ms. Canny has lots of books about koalas, she must really love them!”  

“So did you have a good day, then?”

He paused for just a moment, “No.”

My breath caught, “Oh?”

“Mom, I had a GREAT day.”

Fast forward to today. My son is in 2nd grade and is already talking about seeing all his AIM summer friends again this July. Last week he came home with a sheet of math problems and proudly said, “Today, my teacher taught the class about adding the one when you’re doing math. But I already knew all about that from the summer and I showed my friend next to me because he didn’t understand at first.”

“I showed him the ‘flick trick.’ Mom! Do you know about that? If you have more than ten, you ‘flick’ the one over to the next number.” Though he didn't remember the word “regrouping,” he did remember the concept and was even confident enough to share his knowledge and his “trick” with others.

Becoming a parent changes many things, and becoming a parent when you have spent your career in education is especially enlightening, and at times, frightening. You know how hard some students work for minimal gains. You have seen students lose their love of learning when they think they are falling behind. But you have also seen the effect good instruction can have. You have seen the change in children who used to dread going to school, and now greet every teacher by name as they march into the building each morning.

For me, it was that moment of bated breath at the end of my son’s first day of camp that made me realize how worried I had been. Even though I knew the program and the teachers and the students, there was still that nagging question all parents ask themselves, “Will my child be okay?” Yes, I want him to learn to read and write. I have dedicated my professional life to the valuable role literacy plays in a child’s future. But I also want him to be happy. I want him to make friends. I want him to be able to confidently show how incredible he is. I want him to “be okay.”

It is often said at AIM that all kids can learn, some just need to be taught differently. This is true in summer too. Sometimes a little “flick trick” is what a child needs to get a concept to really click. And when that click happens, it is truly…a GREAT day.