By Jeanne Neuwirth, LCSW Clinician
When the world turned upside down, one of the things that threw us for a loop at Pathways School Based Youth Services Program was the gradual realization that we would not be able to hold our usual active summer program at Carteret High School, complete with field trips, basketball and volleyball, silly contests, raucous games of sharks and minnows, theater antics, and so much more. We were at a loss at first, and then we wondered…Would the students do a virtual camp? Would they…even show up?
Well the reviews are in, and Pathways virtual summer program was a HIT!
Based on survey results, 75% of the students said the program overall was great or awesome, and 89% said that camp was something they looked forward to during the pandemic. As for their parents, 90% said the program overall was awesome, and 100% said the summer program gave their child a productive, safe and enjoyable activity.
How we launched our Virtual Summer Camp
Led by Director Lauren Balkan, Pathways staff began by brainstorming ideas about how to build a virtual camp. Carteret Middle School and High School students were polled about their interests, and to our delight, we had more than two dozen students sign up!
Then came a flurry of Zoom staff meetings, pondering the question, What were we going to do with teenagers for four hours a week on Zoom that they would actually enjoy? Staffers developed a full schedule of games, workshops and arts activities, but it all still begged the question: Will it be FUN?
Participants were divided into five teams of five to six students, each under the lead of a Pathways counselor. Counselors connected to their teams via the Remind app and kept them apprised of upcoming camp activities. Each participant also looked forward to a weekly hand-delivered camper bag, filled with supplies needed for upcoming activities, snacks and small prizes.
Keeping students engaged through the summer
On the first day of camp, Tuesday, July 7, seven Pathways staffers signed onto the Zoom session and held their breath waiting to see who would sign on. One by one, students popped onto the computer screen, and we ended up having 27 students in attendance!
Our next task was to keep them engaged. Each Zoom camp session began with a quick greeting, then everyone was put into breakout groups by rotating staffers who acted as "Zoom Masters," moving students in and out of workshops and activities. In small teams, students and their counselors played ice-breaker games and competed in-household scavenger hunts, Zoom pictionary, charades, music trivia and Kahoot. This was our team building and mentoring portion of the day — getting the kids connected.
After game time, students had a choice of workshops run by staff, then finished the day with an art activity — in many cases run by a special guest artist.
Staff-run workshops included:
- Creating Mindfulness Jars with Jeanne
- Finding Your Chill with Kim
- Sports and Exercise with Dylan
- Time Management with Mo
- Future Planning for Juniors/Seniors with Jeanne
- Incorruptible Us Vaping Prevention (organized by Mara from our parent organization, Wellspring Center for Prevention)
- Loving Yourself with Mo
- Gratitude Hunt with Christina
- Me, Myself and I with Kim
- Album Painting with Christina and Dylan
- Guided Meditation with Mrs. Mendoza
Guest workshop leaders included:
- Ben Ponté, an Australian-born artist based in New York City, who led two sessions of "Drawn From Within." Ponte encouraged students to get in touch with their imaginations. "We are using our imagination all the time." He reminded them that even being on Zoom, we were imagining being together in the same room. The artist invited students to consider their inner and outer worlds. As our students sat back and studied the item they were planning to sketch he noted, "when looking up, you are receptive — open to your surroundings," and when looking down to draw an item "you are relying on your memory, your inner world." Ponté encouraged students to draw an object that held meaning for them. Students considered that drawing something, in a sense, gives it a whole new life.
- James Ellerbe, poet and spoken-word artist, who inspired students to create amazing prose through his poetry writing workshop. The students and James then shared their creations, gave feedback and encouraged one another.
- Jezenia Gardener, owner of Carteret's own Dibble and Dabble, who was back by popular demand. He led students in creating a beautiful painting in acrylic on canvas.
- Mayvis Payne, makeup artist, who taught students how to make home-made lip scrub with natural ingredients you might find in your own kitchen. Together, they each created a custom lip scrub.
- Marianne Cyran, aka NJ Party Queen, who led students on a cooking adventure, in which they created delicious S'mores Pizzas using simple ingredients. Judging by the smiling faces and marshmallow covered fingers, these were delicious.
- Karen Gilmour from Alleum Yoga, who led campers on a gentle session of visualization and meditative yoga poses. This is always relaxing and restorative for campers and staff!
- David Villa, a fan-favorite camp counselor, who made a special appearance to lead workshops on improv and theater games. This is a great way for campers to blow off steam and always ends up being a lot of laughs.
Four weeks of camp flew by, and other than some connection issues, there was barely a hitch.
Thank you, Carteret students!
Pathways would like to thank our awesome campers for believing in us, showing up and having the courage to try a new format and novel activities!
Here are some reviews from students who participated in our summer camp:
- "This month was amazing, and I wanted to say that you guys inspired me to make the best out of a kind of bad situation."
- "I really enjoyed everything in the program. Thank you for giving me positive energy."
- "This camp was awesome. I had a lot of fun … It gave me something to look forward to other than playing my video games all day."
- "It was really fun, especially during this time. This was my first year ever doing summer camp with Pathways, and I'm glad I signed up. They were really supportive and understanding if you couldn't make it. This was honestly something that helped get through this tough time, but I wish camp could've been longer."
- "I loved the way the program had many opportunities for us to try."
- "The program gave me self confidence. I really liked it so much, and I had so much fun with all of the participants. Thank you so much. 😍"
- "This program was absolutely amazing! I loved the art aspects of the camp, and I enjoyed the more spontaneous parts of it, too."
- "I don't have any suggestions. Everything was amazing! :)"
- "The summer program exceeded my expectations. I actually used to look forward to the meetings. It was full of great ideas and surprises. Thank you so much for this experience."
- "I enjoyed the summer camp. It was definitely something I would love to do again. It helped me with so many things, from self acceptance to doing new hobbies such as painting. Thank you so much for doing this summer program that I could be a part of. I loved every single game we played, making the scrubs, improv, games with our counselor, yoga, etc. It also helped me come out of my comfort zone and learn more about myself and what I like."
- "I enjoyed every moment and activity, and it was great getting to know everyone in my groups."
- "Thank you for a great camp experience. I will treasure all the memories. Thank you Pathways and everyone for being there and making this summer a fun one! I enjoyed all the activities!"
- "It was very fun … Can't wait to do it again."
- "Thanks even though I'd prefer to see everyone's lovely faces in person, I still had fun this summer. <3<3"
- "I'm a senior; I'm really gonna miss camp a lot."
- "The summer program was a great experience."
Our summer program was made possible with funding from NJ Department of Children and Families, Middlesex County Freeholders, and Central Jersey Arts Council through the support of the Mayor's office of Carteret. Look for more camp pictures on Instagram (@pathwayssbys) and Facebook!
While Pathways is gearing up to fully support students in the fall, we continue to operate throughout the summer. If any Carteret Schools student is in need of support, you may text or call the Pathways cell phone to seek counseling services at 732-543-5040.