How to Host a Leadership Camp for Tweens
We work with many girls at The Community Classroom, especially in middle school and high school (math and science!). One trend that we’ve noticed with our young women is that there seems to be a drop in confidence that happens in 4th-6th grade. Something changes. Maybe it’s the onset of puberty, maybe it’s societal pressures and exposure to social media. But we decided to do something about it: To host a leadership camp for tweens and teens.
What the research says (the micro):
When adolescence hits girls, the power dynamics of gender roles ingrained in our society begin to shape the way they think about themselves and their potential. It’s a time of high psychological risk and anxiety, as well as increased vulnerability. Society can start to tell our young girls how and when their voices should be heard based on archaic norms.
This is the time to instill leadership pillars with young girls, as well as enforce the idea that their voice matters. Research demonstrates that teaching leadership during the period of brain growth between the ages of 10-13 can have some of the longest-lasting impacts.
What the research says (the macro):
A program like this, starting with girls at a young age, can have big rippling effects. Suppose girls are open to the possibilities of leadership and begin to develop those beliefs in themselves. Then there is a higher likelihood that they will pursue leadership roles in their futures. This can shape not only their lives but the lives of those around them. When there are more women in leadership, organizations thrive—from the bottom line to organizational flow and workplace culture (and there’s plenty of research to back this up).
The Community Classroom’s definition of leadership:
Based on the concept of servant leadership, our definition of leadership includes exploring one’s strengths, focusing on growth, developing a deeper sense of self, creating a stronger sense of one’s voice, and identifying how identity and voice can help promote greatness in their own community.
The theory of change:
Our theory of change is based on leadership research and our definition of leadership. We believe that by engaging in lessons focused on servant leadership and meaningful internships with female entrepreneurs, we can help young women gain confidence, a richer sense of self, a stronger voice, and a variety of ways they can use their leadership to positively affect their own communities.
The leadership camp curriculum:
Our curriculum was developed based on research on the seven pillars of servant leadership in a book written by James Sipe, the research and curriculum that Community Classroom founder, Dr. Megan Allen, completed in her doctoral dissertation, and the research completed by Dr. Megan Allen in the development of the Master of Arts in Teacher Leadership at Mount Holyoke College.
The curriculum was built around the following leadership pillars:
- Unpacking Leadership
- Setting Goals (Self and Group)
- Communication (Verbal and Nonverbal)
- Getting Organized
- Collaboration and Teamwork
- Embracing Failure
- Trying New Things
- Building Consensus
- Being Assertive
These are not only leadership skills, knowledge, and dispositions, but also executive functioning skills that can become more complicated for adolescents as they yearn for more independence.
Each day ended with a community-based internship with a female leader or entrepreneur. We were lucky to have access to our Northampton mayor, Chamber of Commerce, and network of female leaders who welcomed our campers.
How did we choose those internships? We sent a pre-assessment out for our campers that included questions about their interests, goals for the camp, and a checklist of potential internships they might be interested in.
We created this overview of our lesson plans for the two weeks (feel free to borrow, just attribute it toThe Community Classroom and link to this article).
Each day the campers had a journal question as homework so they could reflect on their learning in the classroom, how it connected to their internship, and tie it back to their own personal growth. Full disclosure: It’s hard to give homework over the summer (and expect it completed!).
We also gave our campers a goodie bag on their first day of camp that included thank you notes—enough for every internship. So writing a thank you note was also daily homework.
We added a book study component and optional reading list thanks to our friends at High Five Books. The book we choose was Girls Who Run The World: 31 CEOs Who Mean Business. We had a week-long break between our two weeks of camp, so this was our reading week. The girls were tasked to read as much of the book as they would like (we do realize it’s summer) and annotate any case studies they wanted to talk about with the group when they returned.
The end goal of the leadership camp:
We wanted a meaningful culminating project for our campers. And we knew these girls LOVED social media. So we plan to have them write their daily learnings in a KWL chart (Know, Want to know, Learned) and then will give them an assignment: to create social media images of their learnings using Canva. They will then take over The Community Classroom’s Instagram and Facebook accounts at the culmination of camp, sharing their learnings with a large social media audience.
We are also hiking a local mountain on the last day and will have a pinning ceremony at the top, where they will receive a special leadership pin and read some of their favorite learnings from their journals.
The leadership camp schedule:
We opted to try to keep it light(ish) since it was summer learning. We also wanted to respect that one of the young ladies in our pilot was in a summer reading camp during the mornings. So we opted for leadership lessons from 1-2, 2-2:30 was transition time to the internships, and 2:30-4:30 was internship time.
The parents picked them up at their internship. We made sure to give each child’s family a personalized day-by-day schedule so they would know where to pick them up. We also made sure each business owner had a printout with their interns’ names, any allergies or medical issues that could be important, caregiver phone numbers, and emergency contacts (as well as the owner’s and the lead tutor’s cell phone numbers).
The first few internships were all together and the owner, Megan, stayed for the majority of the time to ensure the campers were comfortable.
The real-life application of leadership:
What’s learning something cool and new if you don’t have the opportunity to try it out in the real world? We wanted to give our campers chances to shine and show off what they had learned about themselves! So we offered 2 optional opportunities outside our normal camp time.
Our campers attend the Greater Northampton Area Chamber of Commerce’s Arrive at Five. We created a poster encouraging Chamber members to help them practice networking skills and armed our campers with index cards with communication tips they had explored and networking conversation starters they had practiced. And we let them loose on the downtown Northampton business community!
Our campers also prepared and hosted two segments on WWLP News Channel 22’s Mass Appeal: How Kids Can Use Vision Boards to Set Goals and How to Be A Better Communicator. The recordings speak for themselves! All the practice and hard work paid off, as our campers really did shine.
Other leadership camp resources:
- This letter to parents and caregivers
- This email to business owners who were participating
- This waiver for transportation and photos
- The pre-assessment
We’d like to give some special shout-outs to those who helped make this camp experience special for our campers, including Passalongs Farm, Tiffany Chapman Photography, Telebelle, Northampton Mayor Gina Louise Sciarra, Marcella NYC, The Academy of Music, The Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce, 25 Central, Ascendance Inner World Dance, CopyCat, Heather Sikorski Hair and Makeup, Miss Florence Diner, Make it a Custom Creation, and The Community Classroom’s lead tutor, Christina Webster.
This has been an amazing opportunity for my daughter. She has a reading camp in the morning and the motivating factor in the morning is getting to the leadership camp for 1pm! Amazing ideas with unique experiences that have allowed her to become more confident and best of all, meet new friends and entrepreneurs!