The skills needed to run a successful business cannot be learned overnight. There needs to be a budget, a marketing plan, and a general overview of how the organization will operate. Managers and employees must be trained, and customers need to be recruited if the company expects to turn a profit. So how does a summer camp program with the motto, “a camp run by kids for kids” resemble a real-life business? Ask Bo Baker, Rives Castleman, Holmes Davis, Natalie Groves, and Virginia Tiernan, all juniors at The Episcopal School of Dallas, and they will tell you that working for Camp SPARK this summer taught them much of what they need to know about running a business.
“In the months leading up to the camp, we would all meet to discuss potential dates, finances, and counselor selections,” Davis explained. “Then we had to use our different networks to email parents about signing their kids up and hand out flyers in carpool lines to make sure we had enough registrations.”
Those initial meetings included the students working together to create and organize camp invitations, marketing campaigns, and event logistics. They used their different networks to recruit kids, and also set budgets to place advertisements in local newspapers and on neighboring school websites. When day one rolled around, more than 100 children between the ages of 5 and 13 showed up to participate in Camp SPARK.
“Camp SPARK really helped me understand just how meticulous starting and running a company could be,” Baker said. “It also helped me to become much more patient and skilled working with kids.”
In addition to drafting a formal business plan, every day had to be planned down to the smallest detail to make sure everything ran smoothly. The students worked together to plan each day’s activities and ensured there were enough counselors for each camper. Parents were on-hand to help oversee the activities, but it was the students leading the way. It gave the teenagers a chance to mentor and connect with the younger children.
"I learned much more than I thought I would,” Groves said. “I figured out each person has something in common with you no matter the age, so I tried my best to get to know each camper."
For part of the day, the boys and girls would separate to participate in different activities, including arts and sports. Then in the afternoon, the students would all get together to play on the waterslide, fish in the quarry, or compete against the counselors in a pick-up game of basketball or tag. Though the counselors created a schedule for each day, they quickly learned that when working with so many children, plans are bound to change.
“The most valuable lessons I learned were communication and responsibility,” Castleman said. “When you’re in charge of 110 kids, you have to be able to explain clearly when a student needs to line up, or when you need help filling water coolers. Working with the other counselors and the younger kids helped me speak more clearly and with more brevity so I could communicate my message more effectively."
Created by a group of local high school students several years ago, Camp SPARK is a week-long camp for children that builds confidence, sportsmanship skills, and life-long friendships. SPARK itself stands for “strong, powerful, athletic, rockin’ kids” and features activities organized and supervised by trained Upper School students. The counselors are paid, but the experiences they gain from working at the camp are invaluable.
When the camp concluded, the students had to account for every dollar spent and make a spreadsheet that listed every item purchased, including any advertising and printing expenses incurred during the recruiting process. “I think that was the most relevant ‘real-life’ experience because that lesson can be applied to any business model,” Tiernan explained.
But the most important lesson she said she learned came from working with her peers to put on the best camp for the younger students.
“The most significant part about it was not just what we were doing day to day, but the bonding that happened between the counselors and the campers,” Tiernan continued. “Learning how to divide and conquer tasks with the friends we hired was also something we developed over the week. We quickly learned how vital it was to trust everyone with what we assigned and trusted the work we put in ahead of time would ensure everything ran smoothly.”
To register for Discover Summer at ESD, please visit www.esdallas.org/summercamp.