Tue. Jul 23rd, 2024

This past summer, I was a camp counselor for a dozen 10-year-old girls at a sleep-away camp in Pennsylvania. It is the same camp I have attended for 10 summers before this one (the first eight as a camper, the last two as a waitress). I knew that because the girls in my group were returning to camp for their second or third summers, I was going to be with kids who had begun the kind of love affair with camp that I had experienced over the previous decade. I expected I would have a wonderful experience, but I did not realize how much the expirience would help me to grow as a young adult. 
In addition to the group of girls I lived with each night, I was a tennis counselor during the day. I taught campers of all ages, combining lessons with fun and games. It was an amazing way for me to get back into tennis after taking nearly two years off because of a knee injury I suffered at the end of my high school tennis career. It was also a great way to get to know campers besides those in my bunk. While I am no tennis pro, I found myself helping a lot of discouraged tennis players find hope in their skills and in their abilities to improve-and that made me want to improve.
For two periods each day, campers decide what they want to do rather than attending a pre-scheduled activity. Oftentimes, campers who chose tennis were not great at the sport, but were committed to improving-and having fun. It reminded me the importance of never getting discouraged; if you look for help, you can find people to assist in reaching your goals and serving as your cheerleader. I also did not realize I had it in me to be that cheerleader and motivator for these campers. I loved helping them to become better tennis players and to have better attitudes about their game.
During meal times, rest periods, clean up time, and night time, I watched over the campers in my bunk. Because the living quarters are tight, the girls got into countless little arguments and they came to me and my co-counselors to ask for help, or to complain. Whether they fought about stickers, someone’s bedding being too close to theirs, or cliquiness, it felt good that they wanted to confide in me. 
When a camper was upset about someone else’s actions or words, I found myself often repeating: “We all face mean people. It stinks. But is there anything we can do to control their actions? Unfortunately not. What we can do is: (1) Think about the way we want to deal with the situation in the future to avoid it, and (2) Work on how we can talk to the mean girl in a more effective way, such as explaining what she did and how it impacted us.” 
I also would tell my campers that it is important to be positive, to be themselves, and to be natural. I counseled them not to force anything if it is not who they are. “Just be you,” I said countless times. When I noticed the repetition of my advice, I realized I could also do a better job practicing what I was preaching.
One of my camper’s feelings about camp kept changing. One evening, she came to me upset about an incident and told me she hated camp and did not want to come back next summer. At other times, she had told me she was having a great summer. Finally, during the last week of summer, she said she wished camp was over so that she could go home.
I told her I could not help her to go home, she would have to discuss that with her parents and with the camp directors. I then reminded her she had had a great summer, and if she was going to stay, I was not going to let her ruin the last week for herself by being upset about one incident with a couple of the girls.
She agreed she did not want to look back and feel disappointed about having an unhappy last week of camp. I told her I was always there for her when she needed to talk, or to just take a breather and take a walk with me. I explained to her that it is important not to make rash decisions and she should take things day by day. I reminded her she was surrounded by amazing people who care about her and want her to be happy and have great memories from her summer. She stayed until the end and went home happy, planning to return next summer. That was extremely gratifying for me, as was so much of what I experienced and learned this summer.
I take any experience I can get to help me become a better future educator, since I am an education major here at WCU. The experience I had as a counselor this summer gave me insight into my future. Teaching will not always be easy, but it will be rewarding. Just like my experience as a counselor, there will be many ups and downs in my teaching career. But what I got out of being a counselor was so rewarding, and can never be replaced. While I love all of my education classes I take at WCU, it was fascinating to take everything I have learned and apply it to my summer job. I am fortunate to be able to have the experiences to help me for my future, and I will continue to take advantage of hands on experience down the road.
Julie Singer is a second-year student dual majoring in middle grade prep with a concentration in reading and special education. She can be reached at JS781397@wcupa.edu.

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