Camp directors and counselors know that camp is more than a fun experience. By exposing children to new people and adventures, by putting them in situations where they are acting independently of their parents and taking responsibility for themselves, they prepare for the world beyond summer life.
Most camps, however, do not advertise that they are jump starting campers' future careers.The overall camp experience is emphasized, while life lessons are a serendipitous byproduct. But a growing number of summer camps are meeting the needs and interests of campers who want to get a taste of the future. Increasingly, campers, particularly adolescent campers, are asking for programs geared towards career choices.
Performing arts camps have been leaders in this area, offering talented youngsters the chance to study and perform as part of the summer camp experience. French Woods Festival of the Performing Arts in Hancock, New York has been offering music, theater, and dance, as well as fine art, circus, and general camp and sports activities since 1970. Full musical productions, dramatic performances, classical, jazz, and rock concerts and recitals cap their three, six, and nine week programs.
Meanwhile, both Robert Downey, Jr. and Helen Slater got their starts at Stagedoor Manor in New York's Catskills. Stagedoor places heavy emphasis on learning through doing: campers routinely perform shows and musical revues at nearby resort hotels.
Interested more in classic theater? Then Manhattan's American Academy of Dramatic Arts, which offers an eight week summer program for teens might fit the bill. Teens take classes in the same facilities as their adult counterparts in a true conservatory atmosphere, studying voice, movement, and drama. Graduates of the adult program include such diverse talents as Cecil B. DeMille, Robert Redford and Grace Kelly.
But you don't have to go to New York to go to theater camp: the Stanford Jazz Workshop in California offers a three week program for aspiring jazz musicians of all abilities, and Oscar nominee Tom Hulce attended Michigan's Interlochen Arts Camp, as did TV news broadcaster Mike Wallace.
Broadcasting is beginning to develop a subspecialty of its own in camping. Ohio's Wright State University in Dayton, for example, offers a Television Institute, where teenage campers go behind the camera in a professionally equipped television studio to learn how television programs and the broadcast industry really work. Participants create and tape a multiple camera television program, and learn how to be a director, camera operator, telepromptor operator, audio operator, floor director, and on camera talent. Wright offers college credit for high school students attending this residential camp as well as others as diverse as one and two week institutes in Theater, Technical Theater, Debate, Leadership, Creative Writing, New Art Forms, Clowning, Science and Math, and Aviation, where participants explore over fifty careers in aerospace, from piloting to meteorology.
US Space Camps in Huntsville, Alabama and Cape Canaveral, Florida, offer students interested in becoming astronauts the opportunity to go through many of the training activities offered to real astronauts, including weightlessness and hyper motion simulation. The weeklong programs culminate in a simulated space flight.
For campers interested in the military, North Carolina's Oak Ridge Military Academy Summer Cadet Program, where leadership, academic enrichment, and athletic competition are stressed, might be the ticket. The three week program also teaches outdoor skills, physical fitness, rope courses, and riflery, along with such standards as music, photography, sailing, and canoeing. Meanwhile, for teens interested in diplomatic careers, Concordia Language Villages in Moorhead, Minnesota offers the opportunity to immerse in any one of ten cultures.
Meanwhile, Camp Sea World Adventure Camp Internship where students work with and learn about animals and marine related careers stresses both zoology and oceanography. But more than that, in the words of Mary Alice Ramirez, Seaworld's education director, "students learn about day to day responsibilities, hard work, and that by working as a team, great things can be accomplished." This is a recurring theme in career camp brochures, whether students are studying to be actors, astronauts, or military leaders.
New York City's Fresh Air Fund has an innovative Career Awareness Program, designed to help youngsters understand the relationship between school work and how to make choices that will determine their futures. In New York City, 12 to 15 year olds participate in job shadowings that offer close up views of business, year long monitoring programs, and an intensive four week summer session at the Career Awareness Camp, Camp Mariah, which was named in honor of the singer Mariah Carey, who has supported this program both financially and philosophically.
Speaking of celebrities, sports camps, either run by pro teams or sports figures, seem to be everywhere. And while some may question mentioning sports camps in an article on career camps, the folks at Five Star Basketball Camp can offer a compelling argument: Michael Jordan got his start there when he was thirteen!
Author Nancy Sheffler is a freelance writer and novelist. Her daughter has gone to overnight camp for several summers.