The Winona Way or What I Did on My Last 23 Summer Vacations
Growing up, as soon as summer break began, I could not wait to get to camp. Now I am in my twenty-third summer at Camp Winona, and I still cannot wait to get to camp. Activities like kayaking, canoeing, and camp craft beckoned me back as a camper. Leading trips on the Upper Kennebec, Allagash, and Webster Stream/Grand Lake Matagamon motivated my return as a young counselor. Now as a veteran staff member, a new role at Winona inspires me to hurry back to the shores of Moose Pond as soon as summer break begins.
I have been asked how it is that I can go from “teaching all year to spending summer vacation working at a camp,” and “don’t [I] need a break from the kids?” The simple answer is, “No.” I don’t need a break because my two jobs as an educator are really quite different. While at summer camp, I am afforded the opportunity to see the best side of a group of adolescents – the side that is not conflicted by any stress from homework, teachers, peer groups, romance, technology, parents, practices, etc. In the summer, I become the kind of educator I aspire to be the rest of the year. I become an instructor of the life skills that will make these adolescents more prepared to manage the stresses associated with their life outside of camp. I become a guide and a mentor who delivers staunch content, the kind of content that can’t be assessed with exams or papers, content that results in burgeoning feelings of confidence, purpose, and integrity.
I am now in my sixth summer directing Winona’s Counselor-In-Training program. Though the CITs hone their skills as activity instructors, the number one lesson of the summer is how to put the needs of others before their own needs. Not surprisingly, this is a novel concept for most of my CITs at the start of camp. However, during their seven-week summer, each CIT will make tremendous strides in recognizing that they are part of a community, not the center of the Universe. They learn to take care of each other, and in doing so, they are taking care of themselves. Plus, they learn the intoxicating power of positivity and the gravitational pull that comes from genuine kindness.
“They learn to take care of each other, and in doing so, they are taking care of themselves. Plus, they learn the intoxicating power of positivity and the gravitational pull that comes from genuine kindness.”
I’ll be honest with you; I have it pretty easy as the director of the CIT program. The CIT class rarely exceeds twenty-four participants. Each participant has intrinsic motivation thanks to their own loving relationship with Winona. Also, I have terrific facilities at my disposal to create the best possible learning opportunity for my CITs. Skill specific training at the beginning of the summer gives way to discussions about successful teaching pedagogy and different learning styles. The CITs put their education immediately into practice when they assist in activities each day. Some of the tactics they learn work, while others do not – and the feedback loop is almost immediate. Each night the CITs share memorable events from the day, both the good and the bad so that they can all learn from each other’s experiences. Most importantly for me, the CITs share an honest interest in helping campers navigate challenges and find success.
This summer is bittersweet for me as it will be my last summer for a while. Next summer I will marry the love of my life; though I am excited to begin a wonderful adventure with her, I will be sad to not return to the pines of Winona. However, I am grateful that I had the pleasure of working for Uncle Al Ordway, the gentleman for whom Gould’s dining hall is named. I am grateful that my classroom teaching informs my approach to instruction at Winona, and my experience at Winona informs my role at Gould. Wherever I go in life, I carry the Winona Way with me, and that has made all the difference.