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Staff Ratios and staffing at Camp: Seven questions to ask

Just as schools, public and private, publish staff to student ratios, many camps provide prospective families with these numbers as an indication of supervision over the summer. When looking at these numbers it is important to keep several key questions in mind. Sometimes foodservice, maintenance, custodial and grounds keeping staff are included in these ratios, and savvy parent will delve more deeply into the numbers.

While certainly schools, or camps, count upon and value the good work of these support staff, their level of training and direct involvement in the life of your child may be different from trained education or human service professionals whose primary role is student or camper interaction. In general there are 7 basic questions to ask to determine if the staff and staffing ratio reflects the “ground truth” of who will be working with your child.

1)What staff members are included in the staffing ratio? This means, “ Do the secretaries and nurses count? What about the laundry staff or the dining hall folks?

2)Does the program use junior staff (counselors in training, junior counselors etc.) and are they reflected in the supervision ratio? Are high school students used as supervision of your child? If so, what is the supervisory structure for these junior staff?

3)What is the average staff age? While this isn’t a perfect metric, it can certainly speak to the culture of a program. If the average staff age is under 21, the camp will certainly have a different level of life experience in working with kids than if the average staff age is closer to 30.

4)Are the supervisory staff all college graduates? How many of the leadership team work with the population served by the camp in a year-round capacity as teachers, social workers, counselors etc.? Do they hold or are they pursuing advanced degrees?

5)How long is staff training? What assessments are used to determine staff mastery before your child arrives? Does this training include certification in Crisis Prevention, First Aid etc.?

6)What is the ratio of staff applicants to staff hires? This will give you an indication both the desirability to work at a given camp as well as the competitiveness of these positions.

7)Are there multiple background checks for staff (including an FBI fingerprint check) as part of the routine staffing process? Most states require background checks, but it is important to know that all due diligence is being taking to maintain a safe community. Pennsylvania, for example, requires 3 background checks including an FBI fingerprint check on all staff working with kids at camps or schools.

Each camp situation and camper population is different, but knowing the right staff questions to ask will help you make the best decision as to where your child has the greatest potential for success. The time and effort spent in building a quality-trained staff is fundamental to setting our campers up for the ability to become their best selves.

–Brian Lux, Camp Sequoia

Brian is the director of Camp Sequoia whose work with exceptional populations has been twice presented at the World Gifted Conference. He is a Crisis Prevention Instructor and licensed educator who has spent the last two decades dedicated to training superior camp staff to make meaningful and profound differences in the lives of kids. Details about his resident camp program can be found at www.camp-sequoia.com or by email at office@camp-sequoia.com