How we Hire, Train and Prepare our Senior Staff
By Nick Robbins
Contrary to the common depiction in movies that shows summer camp work as an easy job full of goofing off and shenanigans, being a member of the Mowglis Senior Staff is serious business. It is super rewarding, and is definitely a lot of fun, but the level of responsibility for and the influence on our campers that Senior Staffers have mandates that we hire, train, and coach the best of the best.
With all of our Industries, trips, and the overall responsibility for our campers (i.e., other people’s children), there’s an enormous amount of responsibility on all of our shoulders during the summer. We are, as the Latin phrase goes, “in loco parentis,” which translates to, “in place of the parent.” In addition to teaching an Industry, our Senior Staff are the people on the front lines with the campers to ensure their overall health and safety. From reminding the boys to brush their teeth, keep up with tick-checks multiple times a day, eat enough food and drink enough water, make their beds, bag up dirty laundry, and put on sunscreen, the day of a Mowglis Senior Staffer is a non-stop deluge of responsibilities. In addition to the daily routine, they are responsible for guiding back-country trips and teaching potentially hazardous Industries like Fencing, Axemanship, Riflery, and Rock Climbing (just to name a few). We are not only looking after the basic needs of the campers, but we are also taking them into the wilderness and teaching them how to responsibly and safely do challenging and potentially dangerous things!
This is much more responsibility than most 19- to 23-year-olds (the age range for most Senior Staff members) have ever had. I mean no disrespect, but most 19- to 23-year-olds are still struggling with making their OWN beds!
For Mowglis to be a safe place for our campers and to ensure that it is an educational, formative, and inspiring experience, we need to find truly exceptional people to be on the Senior Staff. To borrow the words of Colonel Elwell, “Where a Feeling of goodwill pervades a camp, where the wonder and delight of life is in the air, where the counselors are well chosen”
Therefore, beginning in September, the coming summer’s Senior Staff is assembled by a team consisting of me, Assistant Director Tommy Greenwell, and Diana Robbins. Over the course of the year, from September to April, we constantly seek out and interview applicants for our various summer positions. We correspond with alumni, post ads in special-interest publications and on websites, international organizations, and to college clubs and departments as we look to find the right people. Each staff member must be both a dedicated dorm counselor as well as a skilled and passionate Industry instructor.
After multiple interviews, reference checks, and the requisite court and criminal background checks, our Staff roster is generally filled by the early spring. With all of the unique Industries we offer here at Mowglis, it is particularly challenging to find instructors for all of them. While hiring recent Mowglis Graduates is wonderful for many reasons, we are searching for individuals who are truly passionate about what they will be teaching at Mowglis, Graduates or not. I learned first hand that instructors who love doing and teaching what they are instructing will inspire and energize the campers. That is what we want!
In addition to being passionate about teaching one (or more) of the Mowglis Industries, we are looking for individuals who will be role models for our campers. As we all know, Mowglis provides a wonderful opportunity for boys to learn new and interesting skills like Woodworking and Crew, but it is the deeper lessons that come from the Mowglis experience, like teamwork, self-confidence, perseverance, and trust, that make the School of the Open so pertinent to the development of our campers. Therefore, during our hiring process and pre-season training, we focus and coach our counselors on good judgment, communication, teamwork, and empathy. Our Senior Staff are passionate about being counselors, are trained on how to instruct, and are coached how to handle recurring Camp situations. The key factors that will make them great counselors are whether they will exercise good judgment, communicate well, be a value-adding member of the Team, and conduct themselves with empathy towards others.
As summer gets closer and closer, the year-round team and I work on the coming summer’s pre-season training schedule. It is a living document that grows and develops year to year as we work to come up with the right balance of training and physical camp setup. Over the course of my four years at Mowglis, we have extended the training period to two full weeks. We start with running our own American Red Cross Lifeguarding and CPR class for all of our Waterfront instructors and send our swimming instructors to take the Red Cross Water Safety Instructor (WSI) course. We then bring in SOLO Wilderness Medicine to teach our Trip Leaders Wilderness First Aid. We send our Rifle Instructor to a Rifle Instructor Certification class, and our Archery Instructor takes the Archery Instructor Certification class. Then, everyone who has not yet taken CPR and First Aid takes that training with Hebron EMS.
Once all the Industry-specific training has been completed, we focus for the remaining week and a half on working with the Staff to both physically set up the Dorms and Industry areas, as well as get them ready to handle the nonstop demands and responsibilities coming their way on Arrival Day!
The potential scenarios that counselors will encounter during their time on Senior Staff are too many to anticipate, but there are many recurring ones, so we start with those. We cover how to handle bullying, bed-wetting, homesickness, and fighting, just to name a few. To help our Senior Staff really wrap their heads around how to facilitate positive behavior, we bring in at least one outside youth behavior specialist. Last years was a licensed mental health counselor named Dorothy Derapelian, who did a two-day training on how to elicit good behavior and rule-following without raising your voice or yelling. It was amazingly effective.
A lot goes into to assembling and training the Senior Staff for each summer. We are so fortunate to have an amazing group of Mowglis Graduates and other returning Senior Staff members who help carry on the traditions and “Mowglis Way” of doing things into the coming summer. Together, we get eight or nine months to assemble the team for the coming summer, two weeks to train them, and then seven weeks to put into action what we’ve been preparing for all year: SUMMER! And then, when Mrs. Holt’s Day arrives in August, and the dust settles from the busiest time of the year, we begin this process again!