Summer Programs in Parent News: Faculty Perspective
A recent issue of Mercersburg Academy's Parent News featured a faculty and student perspective on the benefits of Mercersburg Summer Programs. Below is the Faculty perspective, written by Coleman Weibley, director of summer programs.
Faculty Voice: Summers at Mercersburg by Coleman Weibley
In a January Parent News, our dean of student life, Chris Howes, wrote, "At Mercersburg, students are at the core of what we do." For the Office of Summer Programs, it's no different. Having worked with this office for more than 10 years, I've seen firsthand how these programs help to develop and prepare future students for the boarding school lifestyle and also provide current students and young alumni with opportunities for professional growth and development through training, volunteer opportunities, and summer employment.
Mercersburg's beautiful campus provides the perfect setting for learning and personal growth. Each summer, we host around 1,000 students who take part in an array of programs, ranging from Mercersburg Adventure Camp to Performing Arts Intensive, Young Writers Camp, STEAM Camp, or various sports programs.
Our programs encourage participants to try new things, providing experiences they may not otherwise have the chance to try. We give them an opportunity to succeed, and even to struggle, with the knowledge that they are tackling challenges within a safe and supportive environment. Skills participants learn that help to prepare them for boarding school include:
Independence: I love when parents write to us at the end of the summer and brag that their child has continued to clear the table after dinner without being asked or, even better, started doing laundry on their own because they learned how to at Mercersburg. Summer camps are a place where campers get to live life outside of their daily routine managed by their parents. For many, it's their first chance to experience life on their own.
Communication: One of my favorite parts of the summer is when we teach adventure campers how to write letters and address envelopes. While this may seem like a simple task for many, in an age of technology and email a lot of young people have never experienced this. For many participants, Mercersburg Summer Programs is their first introduction to living with roommates and without parents or electronic devices. This forces participants to engage in face-to-face conversation with each other and with counselors and other staff daily. Communication skills are also practiced during daily activities, such as learning to paddle a canoe with a friend, playing a game of soccer, or deciding who will clear the table after meals.
Collaboration: Participants collaborate with their peers in every activity, whether it's creating a cabin skit to present on stage in front of everyone, conquering team challenges, or building a rapid prototype raft to float their counselors across the pool. At Mercersburg, we place an emphasis on respect, courtesy, and consideration when teaching our participants how to live together as a community. In our Performing Arts Intensive, for example, participants work together from the first day of the program until the last day to plan and direct a closing performance for the parents. This often includes building a set, designing costumes and props, and creating choreography.
Critical Thinking: This skill is vital for a participant's success in achieving his or her goals and having a great experience. Resolving roommate issues is one way to work on critical thinking. We also challenge participants with team-building activities that hone their problem-solving skills. Each summer our STEAM campers are challenged with a rapid prototype project where the students have a goal they must achieve, with limited supplies and direction. Last summer, I really enjoyed watching the STEAM campers build rafts out of recycled goods. The part I enjoyed most was watching their faithful counselors board these rafts to test their buoyancy to see whether or not they would float down Flanagan Pool.
Grit: Every participant comes to camp and faces his or her own set of challenges. For one, it may be fear of reaching the top of the rock wall, and for another, it may be performing a solo at closing ceremonies. Whatever the challenge, participants receive the encouragement and tools necessary to empower them to face and ultimately overcome. I really see this grit come to life when the Young Writers Camp has an open mic night at a local coffee shop. I love this night because I watch students find the courage to not only perform in front of a group, but to debut a piece they've worked so hard on during their time at the camp.
Leadership: In every activity, leaders emerge among the participants, and spending two or more weeks together gives participants a chance to learn about their leadership styles and improve upon them. Whether it's choreographing a dance, making a plan for HersheyPark, or developing a capture-the-flag strategy, the opportunities for participants to rise as leaders are endless. Like with many sport teams, Mercersburg's sport camps and clinics provide leadership training, preparing campers to return to their home teams as leaders, whether they hold leadership titles or not.
Our participants couldn't learn these skills without the help and role modeling of our summer staff. Counselors, who often include Mercersburg seniors and young alumni, go through an intensive training that teaches them how to impact the lives of children through positive experiences and interaction. Through the summer, counselors experience invaluable skill-building, leadership, training, and enrichment opportunities. Additionally, counselors will master real-life, problem-solving skills, develop a greater self-understanding, and expand their network of peer relations. The benefits of this tough job extend beyond a counselor's high-school and college years. Business executives often note that experience as a camp counselor translates into excellent management and personnel skills.
In addition to serving as Mercersburg’s director of summer programs, Coleman is an assistant swim coach and a residential faculty member in Tippetts Hall. A native of Carlisle, Pa., he has several years of camp experience at both Mercersburg and the University of Tennessee (his alma mater). He came to Mercersburg from Florida State University, where he was the director of swimming and diving operations and head coach of FSU’s club swimming program, Club Seminole. Coleman holds a bachelor of science in education with a focus on recreation and sports management from Tennessee and recently completed his master's degree in business administration at Shippensburg University.