These three educators are not alone in their search for ways to improve their schools. What can be learned from camp education is a hot topic in Jewish education right now but no one has been able to incorporate the two by just repeating programming. Many educators, including myself, are worried that we are looking for another magic bullet from this for Jewish education when we know that there is no real quick-fix to Jewish education other than real and deep systemic change. Recently Dr. Jeff Kress of the Davidson School of Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary published an opinion piece in The Jewish Week entitled So, You Want Your School to be More Like Camp? that raised the same concerns I voiced to my three educators:
I am concerned, however, about the actualization of the school-like-camp vision. This approach begs the crucial question, “What, exactly, about camp should our school become more like?” Or, what is it about camp that offers positive outcomes and that can be replicated in non-camp settings? If we don’t address these questions, we are at risk of importing surface elements of camp in a way that does not change the fundamental experience of youth education. For example, I can paint my car bright red and give it racing stripes, but this won’t enhance its performance. Improvement requires focusing on what is under the hood.Dr. Kress astutely changes the focus in his piece from specific program models to understanding that there are "five key elements of impactful experiences" from camp education that should be incorporated in to the structures of congregational schools if they want to begin to see similar impact:
1. Attention to Socia and Emotional Dynamics
2. Multiple Entry Points for Diverse Learners
3. Integration of Content and Process
4. Opportunities for Reflection
5. Interconnectedness of Experiences
These are expanded upon in his essay which I encourage you to fully read, but from just these element statements we can see that a congregational school needs to address real systemic concepts before they can expect success from a new curriculum model like experiential education. As Dr. Kress points out, "[t]he implication is that making school more like camp is a complex endeavor that involves going beyond planning catchy programs and requires us to ask and address difficult questions, such as: Are interactions — between and among staff and learners — caring and respectful? Do learners have opportunities to engage meaningfully with educators, clergy, and older youth? Is what is learned in school valued in the rest of the community? Do school activities connect to the diverse interests of students? Do activities incorporate content, or is the day structured so that learning begins when fun stops, and vice versa?"
These are big questions for a school and they involve more than just the congregational educator in determining the answers. Congregations seriously wanting to move the ball forward to incorporate more campesque education successfully need to plan for these discussions and decisions first before trying to replicate what is done in camp settings. It is a commitment to change that will take time but as the camp experience has proven, dedicated time to Jewish experience is worth the effort!