Want a Job At Google? Go To a Social Skills Summer Camp!

Google | Social Skills Summer CampFor generations of campers, summer camp has been teaching critical life skills. Camp has always been so much more than a recreational experience or simply a “fun” way to spend the summer. Are many camp activities recreational in nature? Sure. And is living in a cabin with a group of peers, supervised by attentive and passionate counselors, a lot of fun? It’s the best! That’s what makes camp such an incredibly unique and powerful educational setting: kids are learning without feeling like they’re learning. They’re having the time of their lives while ALSO growing in ways that will shape who they become as adults.

In recent years, camp professionals have been working to better articulate the value of the camp experience. This effort has coincided with a movement to introduce the concept of 21st Century Skills to the dialogue around the American education system. Other educators are coming to realize what camp directors have always known – but too rarely talked about: that “soft skills” like communication, collaboration, critical thinking, resilience, empathy and self-awareness are actually better indicators of academic and professional success than mastery of traditional academic subjects or even other intelligence measurements.

We recently came across an article in The Washington Post, titled “The surprising thing Google learned about its employees — and what it means for today’s students”. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/12/20/the-surprising-thing-google-learned-about-its-employees-and-what-it-means-for-todays-students/) The article contains a post by Cathy N. Davidson, who summarizes the findings from two research projects conducted by Google: Project Oxygen in 2013 and Project Aristotle in 2017.
Ms. Davidson indicates that Google’s founders originally concentrated their hiring on candidates with great academic success in computer science and other “hard” skills. By 2013, they had enough employment data to analyze which specific talents correlated with the most success and best leadership at work. Here’s what they found:

Project Oxygen shocked everyone by concluding that, among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM expertise comes in dead last. The seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.

That paragraph is striking to me because it so accurately describes the skills we teach at camp. We’re shooting a new promotional video for Akeela this summer. In preparation for that project, we’ve been working a lot on articulating a few key messages to potential camp families: What makes Akeela unique? What will a camper’s experience be like in our community? What can parents expect as a return on their investment in our camp? To that last question, I can hardly think of a better answer than what appears above.

The post goes on to discuss the results of Google’s 2017 research on teams, Project Aristotle:

Project Aristotle shows that the best teams at Google exhibit a range of soft skills: equality, generosity, curiosity toward the ideas of your teammates, empathy, and emotional intelligence. And topping the list: emotional safety. No bullying. To succeed, each and every team member must feel confident speaking up and making mistakes. They must know they are being heard.

By way of conclusion, Ms. Davidson says,

STEM skills are vital to the world we live in today, but technology alone, as Steve Jobs famously insisted, is not enough. We desperately need the expertise of those who are educated to the human, cultural, and social as well as the computational.

Here’s a list of the key concepts from those findings:

  • Communication and listening
  • theory of mind (perspective taking)
  • empathy and emotional intelligence
  • curiosity, critical thinking and problem solving
  • emotional intelligence
  • kindness, generosity and respect for others
  • confidence and the ability to learn from mistakes
  • belief in one’s own value and voice

The skills on that list are what camp is all about! Because we’re a camp that specializes in kids who need a little extra social support, we’re particularly intentional about building those life skills lessons into everything we do at Akeela. Our counselors know that they’re preparing children for a fulfilled and successful life … and it’s good to know that Google agrees!

Akeela Wisconsin Winter Newsletter

The latest Camp Akeela (WI) newsletter, the Akeela Circular, is here!

In this edition:

  • A letter from Dave and Katie, looking back on the foundation of Camp Akeela in Wisconsin and how much its grown since this time last year! Also, touching on some highlights from our camper reunion.
  • A checklist to help campers and parents prepare for camp, starting with some advice for this winter and taking you right through the weeks leading up to your arrival at camp.
  • A sneak peek into some of our new programming and optional off-campus trips we are offering this summer.
  • Information for parents about the ways we partner with them throughout the summer. We also share details about what to expect from our end-of-summer camper reports.
  • Introductions to some of our fantastic members of the senior staff. Check out their photos and bios, including their favorite camp food!
  • Lists of upcoming camper and staff birthdays, as well as which campers are coming back!
  • A can’t-miss profile of an impressive Akeela alumnus, Nolan D. He catches us up on what he’s been doing since his camper days, including his passion for working in the video game industry.

Read the newsletter here!

Akeela Vermont Winter Newsletter

The latest Camp Akeela (VT) newsletter, the Akeela Circular, is here!

In this edition:

  • A letter from Debbie and Eric, looking back on the Winter Weekend camper reunion and looking forward to our upcoming alumni reunion in honor of 10 years of Akeela!
  • A checklist to help campers and parents prepare for camp, starting with some advice for this winter and taking you right through the weeks leading up to your arrival at camp.
  • A little teaser about some exciting new programming we’re introducing this summer for our oldest campers. 9th and 10th grade teens have some great stuff to look forward to!
  • Kevin’s look back at another fantastic Winter Weekend, which was attended by 53 campers and 18 staff members.
  • Information for parents about the ways we partner with them throughout the summer. We also share details about what to expect from our end-of-summer camper reports.
  • Another Akeela wedding! David Leach and Amanda Perry tied the knot in Manchester, England earlier this winter.
  • Introductions to our incredible team of head counselors. Check out their photos and bios, including their favorite camp food!
  • Lists of upcoming birthdays, returning campers and returning staff.
  • The first edition of “Greg’s Gab”, which introduces our newest year-round staff member, Greg Walker. Greg, of course, isn’t new to Akeela – he’s been a camper favorite since arriving in the summer of 2012!
  • A can’t-miss profile of an impressive Akeela alumnus, Nolan D. He catches us up on what he’s been doing since his camper days, including his passion for working in the video game industry.

Read the newsletter here!

When Should You Hire a Lawyer in the Special Education Process?

This article was originally written by Nicole Joseph an attorney who practices special education law in Maryland.

As any parent whose child has a 504 plan or an IEP knows, sometimes the special education process can be frustrating, if not infuriating. Parents struggle to maintain positive relationships with school staff while also ensuring that their children are getting their needs met. Some school IEP “teams” are effective professionals with the child’s best interest at heart. If you have one of those, count your lucky stars and bake them some cookies! However, even these types of teams sometimes face limitations, like lack of staff or pressure from the district. “Good” team or ineffective team, children are entitled to a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA). Protecting your child’s right to FAPE can be exhausting and confusing. There may be times when you need some help. Consider hiring a special education attorney when:

  • The IEP team refuses to evaluate your child for a disability, or staff outside the IEP process tell you your child doesn’t need to be evaluated.
  • IEP Team says “we don’t do that” [in general]. Remember, this is an INDIVIDUAL education plan.
  • IEP Team says they don’t have the resources or funding to give your child what she needs.
  • Your child has an IEP but is not making progress in YOUR opinion. For example, a child with a learning disability is not making reading progress, or a child who needs social support isn’t getting services to address this issue or doesn’t seem to be improving.
  • Your child is suspended or expelled, ESPECIALLY if you believe the behavior was related to the disability in some way.
  • You are considering filing a state complaint under IDEA, or you are considering filing for due process.

Keep in mind that as you move through the special education process, and especially if there are active disagreements, the school team has access to, or is actively consulting with, the school system’s attorney. If you are considering steps that will get their lawyer or legal office involved (like contacting the director of special education or superintendent, filing for due process, or filing a complaint under IDEA), you should also have this benefit, since you can be sure that their lawyer will be reviewing everything you say or write.

How to hire a special education lawyer

If you decide to hire an attorney to help you through this process, be sure you are consulting with someone who practices special education law exclusively or at least primarily. There are certainly general practice attorneys who will be happy to get involved, but special education law is a highly specialized practice, and interacting with school systems is more effectively done by someone who is familiar with the players in your district. Ask any lawyer you are considering hiring what percentage of their practice is special education, how many special education cases they have handled, and what their familiarity is with your district.

A word about “advocates”
Hiring an “advocate” can be tricky, because there is no universal qualification or training process. Ask anyone you are thinking of working with to describe the specific and on-going training they have received, their level of experience, their relationship with your district and the point at which they would refer you to a professional educational consultant or attorney.
Hiring a special education consultant, meaning a trained special educator, psychologist, or another qualified professional to observe your child in school, review records, and make behavioral or educational recommendations, including possibly presenting those recommendations to the team, is often an effective, helpful step to ensuring both that your child gets what she needs and that you are confident that her best interest is paramount. Special education attorneys consult and work closely with educational consultants.

To locate a special education attorney, a good place to start is with Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Inc.: http://www.copaa.org/. COPAA also holds an excellent, content-rich annual conference.

If you need low or no cost assistance, contact your state’s Protection and Advocacy agency: http://www.ndrn.org/ndrn-member-agencies.html.

Nicole Joseph is an attorney who practices special education law in Maryland. She can be reached at naj@nicolejosephlaw.com or www.nicolejosephlaw.com.

Winter Weekend 2018

Our fourth annual Winter Weekend was a big hit! All of us are incredibly proud of how our campers represented Akeela throughout the weekend. It was so great to see our campers (and staff!) reconnecting with each other, and also building relationships with new friends! Campers took full advantage of the perfect winter weather with lots of sledding and snow play, showed off their bowling prowess at a local bowling alley, and showed true Akeela spirit by donating food and winter clothing to a local community center! We’re already thinking about next year and can’t wait to get back. Check out some images from the weekend below.

Happy Holidays from Camp Akeela

Happy holidays from all of us here at Camp Akeela! We’re thinking of all our camp friends during this season, and can’t wait to be back at camp with you in 2018. We have posted the end of session slide shows from Vermont’s first and second session below so you can relive the magical moments of last summer with us. Wishing everyone a safe and happy rest of the holiday season!

Debbie, Eric, Dave, Greg, & Kevin

Vermont ’17 First Session

Vermont ’17 Second Session

Girls on the Autism Spectrum

Girls Autism SpectrumWe speak with parents who have girls every day and they often tell us that people just “don’t get it”. Girls who are struggling socially present differently than boys. They are often masters at “small talk” and are not shy about introducing themselves to new people and chatting with acquaintances. However, as time passes, they struggle to get deeper into their relationships. They don’t understand the next steps. For other girls, their social enthusiasm can be a turn-off to peers as some girls insert themselves into social situations at inopportune times or in a way that seems “off topic” or “odd”. For this reason, girls are often underdiagnosed or misdiagnosed, leaving them without support for far too long.

I recently listened to an older Australian radio interview (http://www.abc.net.au/radio/programs/conversations/dr-tony-attwood-turns-his-focus-to-women-with-aspergers/7756374 ) with Dr. Tony Atwood – guru of all things Aspergers and an outstanding clinician and lecturer – about girls on the Spectrum. He pointed out that often times girls do not present as a “problem” until the social scene in school becomes more complicated. We hear about this frequently. All children – but girls especially – blend in with their peers at a young age. As kids get older, the discrepancy with their peers broadens and the struggles become more apparent. Dr. Atwood also mentioned that girls are often good “actors” and are better able to “play the role” that they may see on TV or in movies. After some time – even after school at home – “the exhaustion of wearing that mask catches up” to them and they begin to really struggle.

He stated that what is most important for girls on the spectrum is to BRING THEM TOGETHER so that they can be with other people who “speak the same language” and so they can relate to one another and recognize they are not alone. They will learn that “their suffering comes from the ignorance of others”, not from a flaw in themselves. When I heard him say this, I became emotional – this is why Eric and I are so passionate about what we do. We believe firmly that bringing the right group of children together each summer is what is so transformative. Allowing our campers to support each other and to share their own struggles is what makes Akeela so magical. Having Dr. Atwood confirm this is just the icing on the cake!

On Going to Camp with Asperger’s | Part 2

This blog was written by guest blogger and Camp Akeela alumna, Lara Lewis. We are so grateful to Lara for contributing this article!


You can view Lara’s blog here https://awetisticwriting.wordpress.com/

I attended Camp Akeela for three years, which is a large amount of time to compress into so many words. So for part 2, I wanted to write a sort of “Greatest Hits” summary – my favorite parts about being at camp, but also the parts that helped me grow in ways I didn’t expect, working my way up to the best of the best. To start off: chores.

I hear you on the other side of the screen. “Chores? How is that fun?” The chores themselves weren’t always. We were our own clean up crew; everything from sweeping to trash. The reason I list it is what I gained from it; namely that I actually learned how to do those things, with everyone’s responsibilities shifting regularly. It’s a skill you don’t realize you need until the moment you need it. Speaking as somebody who’s lived in a dorm by herself, you will need it.

Next on the list is a tie of two places – the Art Barn and the library. The library was a little uphill cabin full of books waiting to be cracked open, which was something I adored, and the Art Barn was basically a craft studio full of supplies for young artists, and art was something else I adored. It wasn’t just my luck, though; there seemed to be something for everybody, from sports to swimming to anything else you could expect a camp to have. I still have the little sun-catcher I made one year – it’s hanging in the window!

The best I saved for last – the community. I know, that’s cheesy, but it’s true. I was among my own; you don’t realize just how much you need people like you, who know how strange your experience can be, until you’ve found them. I was surrounded by other kids with sensory issues, with ticks and quirks, with passions like mine. There’s something valuable to be had in a space where you can find people like you. It taught me something I think every kid deserves to know: You are not alone.

For those who missed Part 1 Click here.

Teens and Technology

I just finished reading two articles about the impact of smartphones on our emotional wellbeing and our intelligence. Neither article was uplifting. The bottom line is that our constant use of our phones has caused us to feel more depressed, to sleep less, to interact with others less and to be more distracted. All of these factors are even more intense for teens who are using phones these days as a way to interact with peers.

An article in the Atlantic (https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/09/has-the-smartphone-destroyed-a-generation/534198/) highlights how much things have changed for teens since most parents were going through middle school and high school. The author reminds those of us who are GenXers of an adolescence marked by events like rushing to get our drivers licenses, an eagerness to have time with friends away from parents and dating. Teens now are much more likely to spend time alone in their rooms connecting with peers using social media. They use Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. None of this is inherently bad – in fact, teens these days feel lucky that they don’t have to leave home to be with friends. The problem is that, although they are connected to peers, the author notes that teens report feeling “alone and distressed”. Teens report that they struggle to interact in person after being so used to screen interactions.

Most notable to me was the author’s findings that teens feel MORE left out these days. It’s obvious when a teen is not invited to a party when everyone on social media is posting photos of parties or gatherings from which they have been excluded. Girls, in particular, are masterful cyberbullies and it seems that teens feel more at liberty to be unkind when they don’t have to look their victim in the eyes. For young adults who are struggling socially, for those who have trouble navigating the complicated social world, who are feeling left out and different, social media is even more troublesome.

The author suggests that, although very difficult, parents should work hard to limit time teens spend on social media. (The other article I read in the WSJ – https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-smartphones-hijack-our-minds-1507307811, also suggests that even having a phone NEAR us decreases our ability to focus.) The more we can encourage young adults to spend time face-to-face with one another, participating in activities that DON’T involve screens, the more likely they will be to feel less depressed, to sleep better and to feel less alone. Camp seems like a great opportunity to practice this. Taking a break for a few weeks from screens can literally be life-changing.

Akeela Vermont Fall Newsletter

The latest newsletter, the Akeela Circular, is here!

Here’s an excerpt, in which Debbie and Eric reflect about the camp’s 10 year anniversary:

In late August of 2007, we were given the opportunity to start our own camp. It was a dream come true – especially for Eric, who had been working in camping full-time for almost 10 years. We have such vivid memories (aided by some of Debbie’s photos) of our first walk-around on the property that would soon become Camp Akeela. We can laugh now about how nervous we both were, seeing how much work the site needed. Buildings were falling down, the dining hall was dark and dirty, and there were virtually no indoor gathering spaces. The beauty of a great partnership is that where one partner sees trouble, the other sees possibility and beauty. That has been true for us both professionally and personally. While Debbie cringed in fear that the site would never be ready in time to welcome campers in less than a year, Eric saw endless potential and his excitement was palpable. Thank goodness, because in those 9 months, Blayne and his crew literally moved buildings and earth, built a new health center, dug a pool, transformed the cabins and created our amazingly beautiful site.

We just finished our 10th summer at Akeela and we are so proud and honored to have been a part of the creation of such a special community. Over 1,000 campers have attended Akeela, 8 staff couples have gotten engaged or married after meeting at camp, and countless lifelong friendships have been forged. We are working on plans for an official 10-year reunion for our campers and staff and will let you know once we have a finalized date and itinerary.

Thank you for being a part of our community. We look forward to many more years of friendship.

Read the entire newsletter here.