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Big Blue Summer Fun Part 2: Lessons in Leadership

As most Pingry students packed up in late June and said goodbye for the summer, a few never left campus. This small handful of Middle and Upper School students have been assisting with Big Blue Summer Day Camp, as both Leaders-in-Training (LITs) and Counselors-in-Training (CITs), or as full-fledged counselors and activity specialists. While assisting with children and camp activities, they have also been developing their own leadership skills. Just as these skills are important during the academic year, so, too, are they emphasized in Big Blue Summer programming.

Over the last school year, Big Blue Summer (BBS) underwent a program redesign and one of the priorities for summer 2017 was an increased emphasis on leadership training among its camp staff and trainees, which include approximately 30 Pingry students and alumni. According to Alicia Harabin '02, former Lower School drama teacher and Big Blue Summer Staff Supervisor, "What might resemble the same summer camp offered in the past is actually a redesigned program that now includes a number of changes, including improved training and personal development opportunities for camp staff."

One of the changes is the launch of the LIT and CIT programs, both of which focus on building leadership skills. With the LIT program designed for rising seventh- and eighth-grade students and the CIT program for rising ninth- and tenth-grade students, campers in each category receive training and mentoring by older Pingry counselors and senior camp staff. Similar to Pingry's Peer Leadership program during the academic year, in which seniors are partnered with freshmen, CITs partner with LITs to teach them the ropes. While many of the training programs' participants are Pingry students, the programs are also open to students from other schools.

For some LITs, this is their first time working with young children or assuming responsibility for anyone other than themselves. For others, like Adom Binns '23, who is an LIT with the "minis" this summer (Pingry's youngest campers, ages 3-5), it's a way to spend time doing something he enjoys. "It's fun playing with little people," he says. "I have a three-year-old brother, so these are all normal activities for me." He assists the children during free swim in Beinecke Pool, reads books to them during story time, and plays games. At other times, these energetic LIT and CITs work on writing a weekly camp newsletter and help out in whatever other way they're needed.

The CITs are tasked with additional responsibilities, and receive ongoing training and feedback on their performance. Emerson Lubke '21, a rising Pingry freshman and younger brother to Jackson Lubke '19, decided to become a CIT as a way to get to know Pingry better and to meet other students before he starts as a new student in August. Each week, Emerson rotates to a new group of campers and has spent time working closely with campers, CITs, and senior counselors.

Nick DeRosa, Division Head Counselor, explains, "We outline specific goals for the LIT and CIT programs, such as teaching team-building and conflict resolution skills. The participants also gain experience in public speaking and the confidence to run a game or activity with the children on their own." By the end of the CIT program, students learn the knowledge and skills required to be a counselor.

After Nick and his colleagues meet regularly with LITs and CITs in small groups to discuss pressing issues and how to address them, trainees return to their camp groups and put theory into practice. Almost every day something unexpected comes up and trainees must adapt and think quickly on their feet. Just recently, a group of CITs in charge of developing an outdoor obstacle course had to come up with an alternative as a rainstorm approached. The CITs worked together to disassemble and redesign the course to function indoors, just in the nick of time.

Full-fledged counselors, who are typically high school juniors, seniors, or older, have also practiced and honed their leadership abilities this summer, both as mentors and mentees. Headed down the stairs towards the cafeteria, freshman Jordan Mandel '21 and senior Jackie Chang '18 joke around about the morning's events. They met this summer, as Jackie serves as a counselor and Jordan is a CIT. After a few minutes of explaining why they both decided to work for BBS, Jackie reveals, "I was really excited to meet some incoming freshmen before classes begin. Working here you also meet people you might not get to know otherwise, and everyone here has something in common we can all relate to." Jackie offers up a final piece of advice to anyone considering working as a counselor for Big Blue Summer. "Remember that it's summer, not school, and it's important to let the kids have lots of fun!"

Click here to read Part 1 of Big Blue Summer Fun!

Andrea Dawson, Senior Writer,