Pittsburgh may have as many summer camps as it has bridges. With both day and overnight experiences tailored to interests ranging from robotics to climbing, the region offers a summer of opportunity. This season, several area camps are touting novel additions.
“With our expansion, we have a new wet lab. It’s much like a high school style lab with gas and water,” said Katie Brunecz, Carnegie Science Center’s senior manager of out-of-school learning.
The laboratory, which is part of the PPG Science Pavilion scheduled to open in June, will be primarily dedicated to two topics: biotechnology and environmental science. While “DNA Detectives” introduces methods for using DNA “in a functional way,” “Investigating our Environment” allows campers to explore water quality, collect soil samples and perform surveys, explained Brunecz, who noted that both week-long camps are for ages 12-14.
At Chatham University, although the music and arts day camp is celebrating its 55th anniversary, a fresh experience has been planned. Scheduled for Aug. 6-10, “Travel Pittsburgh Camp” promises to “promote your child’s understanding of the city,” explained Alicia Danenberg, Chatham’s director of camps and special programming. While the experience will enable rising fifth- through ninth-graders to depart from the university each day and enjoy some of the city’s best haunts, it also permits the Shadyside site to return to its regular state.
“Each year parents want their kids to continue coming to camp, but that week is when we are starting to really transition the university to be student centered as opposed to being camper centered,” said Danenberg.
What “Travel Pittsburgh Camp,” affords is an extra week of Chatham summer camp, complete with the same drop-off and pickup at the university that parents are already used to, she added.
Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh will be offering similar styled excursions for campers entering fourth- through eighth-grade, noted Rabbi Sam Weinberg, the school’s principal.
With its focus on “instilling leadership and independence in our campers,” trips to recognizable places like Kennywood, Skyzone and Fun For All will be utilized to further personal growth, explained Weinberg. “Developing leadership skills is a continual process that happens when you least expect it. The adventurous fun-filled days of summer camp create experiences and environments through which these skills are developed.
“Counselors encourage skill development, and model these values day in and day out,” he added. “Campers learn what a true leader looks like when observing their counselors, how they interact with both kids and adults, and how they communicate. This opportunity allows campers to see themselves as a valuable part of a community and encourages them to take on leadership roles as well.”
Creating such occasions for maturation is key to the camping experience, agreed Lewis Sohinki, director of the James and Rachel Levinson Day Camp at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh.
“The mindset with our staff is to really look deeply at all of the programs that we are offering and instilling these values to make sure that our campers are growing,” said Sohinki.
We have a “consistent theme that we are going to run through all of our camps,” and that is “connections, values, growth and fun,” said Cathy Samuels, JCC’s senior director of development and communications. “Those four concepts come together to prepare children for life.”
As an example of the messaging at play, Sohinki referenced a revamped midot system, which praises positive behavior. Whether it is by placing their names on a board, having an opportunity to raise a flag or participate in special activities, “campers get a sense of what it means to be a great person,” said the director.
Although commendations, public encouragement (and two new high ropes courses) are some of the innovations planned for the day camp, similar attention to personal advancement is being stressed at Emma Kaufmann Camp, the JCC’s overnight division.
“One thing we are doing is changing the way we structure the daily schedule; we are giving campers more choice in what they like to do,” said Rachael Speck, EKC’s director of communication and alumni engagement. “We believe that by giving them more choice and being able to self-select more of their activities it will improve their self-esteem and independence and that sense of self-reliance. When you take it back to growth, we think that these are all important factors.”
In previous summers, EKC campers were only permitted to choose one chug, or hobby, per session, said Speck. “Now they get to choose two per week.”
So whether they select horseback riding, wakeboarding or learning to survive outdoors as a hobby, or simply spend the summer enjoying the West Virginia site’s new disc golf course, there is a greater instruction that is being imparted.
“People grow exponentially through a process of experiencing and trying new things — it kind of takes you out of your comfort zone — so we always want to be providing new opportunities, to learn new skills whether they be sports skills or life skills,” said Samuels. “Camp is phenomenal.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.