Cranbrook Summer Camps: Behind the Scenes of a Quality Day Camp

Send your child to a camp that can overcome the very real challenges of staffing. Learn what Cranbrook summer camps do to preserve summer day camp experiences for kids.

A happy camper comes home exhausted and content from the day’s activities, but ready and eager to do it all again the next day. Parents put their trust in a summer camp experience that will build lifelong memories for their child — but summer camps aren’t immune to the staffing struggles faced by other industries, thanks largely to COVID disruption. Cranbrook Schools Summer Camps, a well-established summer day camp program held each summer on the independent school’s historic 319-acre campus, had to make the difficult decision to cap enrollment in 2021, says Weston Outlaw, Director of Special and Summer Camp Programs.

“We always adhere to the ratios required by the American Camp Association and Michigan camp licensing bodies,” Outlaw says, “so we employed the right number of staff for the number of campers we enrolled. But if we had been able to find an abundance of staff, we could have hosted a lot more kids at our camp last summer.”

The bigger message is that most camps are likely experiencing the same challenges in finding staff, so parents should be prepared for this disruption. At the same time, it’s important to recognize that Cranbrook Schools Summer Camps prioritizes staff attraction, training and retention so that campers can have the very best camp experience available.

Here, we share what parents need to know about how Cranbrook creates the best summer camp experiences for kids ages 3 to 17 at its traditional, specialty and sports summer day camps.

Great Cranbrook summer camps, informed by Cranbrook Schools

Great counselors are critical to the overall experience for kids, so hiring and training staff are important elements of Cranbrook Schools Summer Camps’ operation, Outlaw says. “If we don’t have good counselors, we don’t have a good program.”

Cranbrook pours its experiences gained as a renowned independent school into its planning for summer programming. “We are fortunate enough to be in the school industry and know how difficult it has been to hire after-school program staff as well,” Outlaw says. “In response to that, we have raised wages both in after-school programs and in the summer camps, and what we have seen is more interest from staff for our after-school programs. So we are hopeful in our efforts.”

The 15% to 25% increase in hourly pay for camp staff doesn’t equate to a 25% increase in camp costs, but parents will see a small increase in tuition — closer to 5% — to cover staffing as well as food costs. Cranbrook summer camps provide lunch and two snacks as part of tuition for every camper, Outlaw says.

Following safety guidelines

During the school year, parents have become accustomed to carefully watching the latest recommendations and restrictions regarding COVID-19, and this need is likely to continue throughout the summer. Parents can rest assured that Cranbrook directly follows the advice of Oakland County Health Division and the American Camp Association, as well as larger guidance from national health agencies in order to keep all campers safe.

Here, too, Cranbrook’s summer programming is made even safer, thanks to Cranbrook’s experience with its students, faculty and staff amid changing pandemic conditions throughout the school year.

“And, as a plus, we are able to see internally with our 1,600 PK-12 students what happens and use this data as a determination for our summer programming policies,” Outlaw says. “Our students will leave in June and we will have gathered data internally for all the age groups we serve during the camp. That’s a good thing. We can provide the best scenario for our campers and their families and our staff.”

Ongoing training boosts counselors’ skills

While COVID considerations may be new and ever changing, what isn’t new is Cranbrook’s commitment to developing the skills of its camp staff. “This is a side of camp that parents might not see or think about, but we want them to know how seriously we take training and development for our camp staff and how intentional we are with training,” Outlaw says.

Through a combination of virtual and in-person training, 175 camp staff members learn directly from department leaders about the history of Cranbrook, as well as important information about security, housekeeping, risk management, health and more — and that’s before they spend several days with individual camp directors. “All aspects of our training follow the standards of the American Camp Association and Michigan camp licensing,” Outlaw says.

All camp staff receive an evaluation mid-summer and at the end of the camp season. While being a camp counselor is often a temporary job, staff members learn important skills they can take with them throughout their careers.

“As a summer camp professional, I do understand that this job is taken in the interim before they move into a professional career. Our camp staff members learn valuable customer service skills, how to engage, how to build patience and how to work with other colleagues and supervisors,” Outlaw says. “Camp is a great place for young people to learn the most basic skills for the modern workplace.”

Traditional and specialty camps at Cranbrook make summer fun

Given the disruptions of the past two years, summer camp is even more important for kids right now. The skills kids develop go hand in hand with school success — and their mindful development is largely secondary in the academic-focused classroom, says Outlaw.

“Camp is such an important part of a child’s development. Here’s where they learn social skills, problem-solving skills, how to make new friends and re-energize old friendships,” he says. “Camp is where kids are actively encouraged to try new things, and it’s important to know that there is staff there to support them and be positive about their experiences.”

At Cranbrook Camp (for boys in grades two through nine) and Kingswood Camp (for girls in grades two through nine), campers explore all the diverse and varied fun activities they can only do at traditional summer camps. Through canoeing, archery, drama, swimming, yoga and, of course, arts and crafts, kids connect with others and make new friends — and memories to last a lifetime.

If your child has a special interest, there’s a Cranbrook specialty camp just for them. They’ll blend their love for writing, art, robotics, theater, athletics or STEM with all the fun and friendship-building that summer camp is all about.

Summer camp is so important for kids that it makes sense to prioritize the quality experiences found at summer camp programs that have been around for a while.

“Every camp is different, but at Cranbrook, we have established programs that parents are familiar with and expect to be here. We may change activities and schedule offerings but the camps we offer and our standards have been around for 75 years, if not more. Throughout each camp offering, we are focused on the bigger pieces of each child’s development and that’s why parents send their kids to Cranbrook Schools Summer Camps,” Outlaw says — adding that, for campers, summer is about something even more important.

“Of course, kids come to our camps to have fun,” he says.

Learn more about Cranbrook Schools Summer Camps at schools.cranbrook.edu.

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