Exploring the Postcamp Civic Outcomes and Supporting Program Features of the Teens Leading & Connecting Program
Keywords:summer camp, civic engagement, structured curriculum, Place and Community-Based Education, intentionality, youth development
AbstractAmericans are increasingly becoming disconnected from society, which means that civic engagement is changing at best or drastically decreasing at worst (Bellah et al., 2008; Putnam, 2000). Social researchers have been seeking to identify places in society that can foster not just civic engagement, but also the civic skills that enable such engagement (Obradovic & Masten, 2007; Putnam, 2000). Summer camp may be a potential avenue to engender civic skills and civic engagement, but summer camps remain underrepresented in the civic engagement literature. This article describes a camp program, Teens Leading & Connecting (TLC), that was intentionally designed to develop campers' civic skills and encourage civic engagement. The purposes of this study were to understand the immediate postcamp outcomes of the TLC program (i.e., the outcomes campers reported directly after camp ended) and to explore how the TLC program fostered those immediate postcamp outcomes, from the campers' perspectives. The current study utilized semi-structured interviews with the TLC campers in the week following TLC. These postcamp interviews explored the civic skills and outcomes campers gained through TLC along with future intentions to be civically engaged in the campers' home communities. The qualitative interview data were analyzed following Hycner's (1985) guidelines for qualitative analysis. Analysis revealed six immediate postcamp outcomes for TLC campers, as expressed by the campers: increased collaboration skills, increased leadership skills, increased problem-solving skills, increased motivation and confidence to contribute to their community, increased understanding of service, and increased knowledge of their home community. Additionally, campers identified a variety of features in their TLC experience that supported their outcomes and success in the program. Three main features of their TLC experience emerged as particularly important from the camper interviews: the structure of the TLC program, the bonding within the TLC group, and the context of camp. Campers in the TLC program reported gains that paralleled the intention of the program's designers and were able to describe how the TLC program itself fostered those outcomes. Lessons learned from TLC that could support other youth-serving organizations looking to offer programs similar to TLC are discussed.
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