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Mercersburg Academy Summer Program: Tim Crouch

May 19, 2010

From time to time, I conduct interviews with camp directors to collect advice for parents looking for unique experiences for their kids. I recently spoke with Tim Crouch at Mercersburg Academy in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, regarding their various overnight camps. From Adventure and Wrestling Camps to Robotics Camp and ESL programs, Mercersburg Academy, nestled in the mountains of south-central Pennsylvania, provides the perfect setting for a wide range of opportunities for learning, personal growth and, most importantly, fun.

With so many camps to choose from, do you have any tips on how to pick the right sleep-away camp for your child?

We highly recommend that both the family and child be as comfortable and as familiar as possible with the sleep-away camp that they choose for the summer. We offer a campus visit to anyone who’s interested. It is understandable that both guardians and kids might be nervous about their first sleep-away camp experience, and we try to do everything in our power to assuage those concerns.  Whether it be attending an open house at the camp, asking for references or hosting a reception where we meet the family in their home or somewhere in the community, we are open to just about anything.

What questions should parents ask a camp?

Parents should feel free to ask any questions that come to their mind. Ideally, the camp staff is available and welcomes any inquiry. Important questions range from accomodations specifics, camper to staff ratio, dining options, how can I stay in touch with my child, is financial aid offered, etc. When sending your child away for a week or two, a camp should welcome all questions and be ready with responses.

How should parents prepare their kids for sleep-away camp?

We recommend that parents not bombard their kid with “I’ll miss yous” and “I don’t know what I’ll do without yous” to prevent feelings of homesickness right off the bat. We also would hope that parents are open to and encourage their kids to be ready to meet new people and embrace new activities. There are also a few rules at Adventure Camp that we ask our parents to help our kids prepare for. We do not allow our kids to eat junk food, bring electronics like cell phones, ipods, etc. We really try to make Adventure Camp a unique place where our kids are focused on their activities and making new friends. We try to remove the everyday distractions. However, we do sprinkle in treats throughout the week at our carnival — a minor league baseball game and a trip to Hersheypark — but keeping a trove of treats in one’s cabin is prohibited. We provide a packing list for campers and welcome any questions concerning this list so that every kid is ready to go as soon as they arrive. Otherwise, we would hope that parents simply help their kids get excited for an awesome camp experience!

How should parents prepare themselves to send their kids away to camp for several weeks at a time?

Often times we find that parents struggle with the absence of their child more so than the children. We have had parents sneak their child a cell phone or insist on talking to their child during camp. Both of these scenarios ended with the child being more upset than if they had just gone along with their day. At the end of the first full day of camp, every camper’s counselor will phone home to parents and fill them in on how their child is doing. At Mercersburg Summer, we encourage parents to write their child letters and we set time aside almost daily for our campers to write letters home. We then scan these letters and send them to our parents via email for a very efficient mail system. We also hire a couple of photographers every summer that take hundreds of pictures daily and post them to our Flickr account every night. Parents can check these pictures each day to see the activities their child is enjoying all session. Last summer we took nearly 4,300 pictures! Additionally, we update our camp blog and twitter account each day and find that parents can almost walk through a day of camp with their child this way.

At what age is the best to start sending your child to sleep-away camp?

The age that a child feels comfortable varies case by case. Mercersburg sleep-away camps are only two weeks, with campers having the option of staying multiple sessions. But we still encounter a fair amount of homesickness that happens to kids of all ages. Because of this, we recommend that children are introduced to camp staff or the camp itself prior to attending, so they realize that it is a safe and fun place and do not need to fear the unknown. At Mercersburg we offer a Junior Adventure Camp for campers ages 7 to 8 years old that is only a week long. We feel that this is a good introductory sleep-away camp experience and builds confidence in every camper. Our campers also sleep in air-conditioned dorms, where campers are less likely to feel isolated. Our theory is that we keep our campers so busy during the day that they should rest comfortably at night. However, every session of camp includes one night of camping out under the stars (after all, this is camp, right?).

At Mercersburg Academy, how do you try to prevent children from being homesick and when the situation does arise, how do you deal with that child?

At Mercersburg we counteract homesickness by carefully scheduling camp with little free time. If our campers are kept busy enough, they won’t have enough time to be homesick. Campers only receive mail at lunch time and write letters home well before bed time, so they aren’t forced to reminisce about home right before going to bed or the few periods of free time. During counselor training week, we make sure that our counselors are prepared to deal with homesickness, and we arm them with several effective methods to deal with it. Counselors are taught to encourage campers to participate in every single camp activity; no sulking allowed! Our counselors also understand that many times when a  camper may act out, the root of the issue may be homesickness. Listening skills and patience are very effective in dealing with homesickness, and often times experienced campers can be a great help to the new camper who may be a little homesick.

Do you have any last tips for parents?

We encourage parents to take a vacation while their child is at camp if they can. (Just don’t forget to leave us your contact information.) Trust that your child is in good hands and, while they are in our care, we think of them as ours. We are honored that you entrust us with your child for two weeks, and we look forward to getting to know them. We hope that parents feel comfortable asking us any questions, and we value every member of our summer family.

Lastly, please tell us what’s special about Mercersburg Academy?

Mercersburg Summer programs have the perfect blend of tradition, beautiful facilities, dynamic programming and off-campus excursions. We are dedicated to our campers having the best summer of their young lives and take it very seriously. Lifelong friendships are formed at every session of camp and lasting memories are made. We love our jobs and feel lucky to be given the opportunity to impact young people in such a powerful way.


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