Being a counselor isn’t how many 10th graders choose to spend their summer, especially if they can still be a camper at their sleepaway camp for another year or two. But that’s exactly what Lukas Kroner of Burke, Virginia, plans to do this summer.
While most of his friends will be traveling or playing video games, Kroner will be returning to Camp Twin Creek in Marlington, West Virginia for his ninth summer — and his first as a counselor-in-training, or CIT. “I’m looking forward to making memories with my fellow CITs and working with the junior campers,” he says. “I can’t wait to teach them new things and to help them have a great time at camp.”
That camp experience
Kroner is confident in his abilities because he believes he works well with kids and knows what they think will be fun. Although he won’t be getting paid to be a CIT, tuition for the CIT program costs less than camper tuition, which, Kroner says, “I know my parents like.”
Lukas’s mother, Diana, has always looked at the CIT program at Camp Twin Creek as part of her son’s progression at camp. “I honestly haven’t thought of it as paying for him to work,” she says. “CITs still have their own non-CIT camp activities and camp experience, so they are still ‘going to camp.’ Being a CIT adds a new layer on to the camp experience.”
Not every camp charges 14 and 15 year olds to participate in its counselor-in-training program, but not all camps provide camper-like experiences for its CITs either.
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Although their daily hour-long training sessions may include an activity led by a specialist, CITs at Camp JCC in Rockville, Maryland, participate in camp activities mostly alongside the campers in their assigned group. And instead of paying (or getting paid) to work at Camp JCC, CITs earn service-learning hours that can count towards graduation.
What makes a good CIT?
While CIT programs vary from camp to camp, the qualities that camp directors seek out in teenage hires tend to be similar, starting with the desire to work with children. “We can teach a lot of skills. We can teach them how to do most of their day-to-day things, but we can’t teach them to want to interact with kids,” says Phil Liebson, camp director at Camp JCC.
Ramzi Sifri, director of Summer Camps at McDonogh School in Owings Mills, Maryland, agrees. “We’re looking for people who are sincere in their desire to work with kids, as opposed to just getting a job,” he says.
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Flexibility and patience are two additional key characteristic of a good counselor. “We plan everything every single day of camp, and then every possible change that could happen, does happen,” says Camp JCC’s assistant director, Aliza Glatter.
Interestingly, most camps aren’t just interested in hiring super extroverted teens. As Liebson explains, campers who are less outgoing or may have wallflower tendencies need counselors aren’t likely to bond with the loud, boisterous CITs.
“It takes all sorts of different personalities and style to make sure we’re able to reach every kid,” he says, using his own Pokémon-loving son as an example of the type of camper who connects with counselors who also aren’t as interested in sports.
The most obvious benefit of being a CIT is that your teen will already know the camp’s culture and traditions will have when they return later on as paid counselor — and that knowledge often fast tracks the interview process. “If we’re going to hire a young person, we’d like to hire somebody who’s taken our CIT program, who’s already been integrated into our camps and knows a lot about them,” says Sifri, who explains that CITs at McDonogh Summer Camps are given priority for interviews.
However, “there’s so much you can learn from being a camp counselor that is applicable to school life and job life,” says Sharon Rosenberg Safra, assistant director at Camp Ramah in Germantown, Maryland. She highlights communication skills, such as talking to kids, peers and supervisors, as well as crucial problem-solving skills like the ability to think on one’s feet.
Then there’s the ability to put oneself in someone else’s shoes. “When some of our kids come to us, they’re maybe focused on themselves as the priority,” explains Liebson. “Whereas once they’ve worked with kids, and once they’ve been part of camp, they have that perspective of ‘Well, this is why they’re saying this.’ Now they might be able to mediate conversations between friends or maybe they can help facilitate something that’s a little bit more collaborative.”
Camp JCC CITs, for example, have the added responsibility of running the camp carnival, which teaches them program design.
Sifri says that working at camp provides younger Generation Z kids the opportunity to put down their phones, spend some time in the sun and enjoy eclectic experiences such as art and sciences, computers and sports.
“It just kind of helps them develop their personality and see maybe an interest in where they want to go as they get closer to the college level what their future interests might be,” he says.