Summer 2012: Newsletter #5

As promised, this week’s newsletter comes from Assistant Director Ken Moore, in charge of Pemi’s general program.

“The beauty of our programmed instructional time is that the boys become accustomed to making choices.”

Life is full of choices, and Pemi boys can speak firsthand about making thoughtful and good ones.  Each week, boys sit down with their counselor to sift through the upcoming occupation schedule.  They navigate through offerings in athletics, water activities, nature, music, and art.  They must choose among the twenty or so activity areas that are offered, and are required to make a choice for each hour.  “Should I keep working on my serve in tennis?”  “I’ve never water-skied, maybe I should try that?” “Larry mentioned some occupation called Wilderness Survival, which sounded pretty cool; maybe I’ll choose that.”  These are the questions the boys find themselves asking, as each of them independently chooses what he would like to pursue for the week ahead.  The beauty of our programmed instructional time is that the boys become accustomed to making choices.  Guided only slightly by his counselor, each boy is tasked with designing his own program.

Walking around camp during the 3rd hour of our fourth week of occupations, you gain a good sense of the choices available.  Head of Staff and basketball enthusiast, Dwight Dunston, opened up the 10s Basketball occupation by asking the boys the keys to winning a championship.  The responses were varied, but the boys eventually nailed his three keys: defense, lay-ups, and free throws.  Yesterday, the focus was on defense; today would be the fundamentals of lay-ups.  Dwight had the boys line up on the right side from the 3-point line extended. With a smooth fluid motion, boys took the necessary time to line up their lay-up to bounce off the backboard, using the square to guide their shot.  Ethan Elsaden and Kevin Miller showed extra focus by launching off of the left foot and using only the right hand.

On the archery range, Jon Belinowitz announced that he just hit his first bull’s eye.  Sasha Roberts added that he had just scored his first yellow shot, a 9 out of 10.  The boys left the shooting line to retrieve their arrows only after the appropriate “go ahead.” Safety is always paramount.  Instructor Adam Sandler reminded the boys about the procedures for removing an arrow from the target without ripping the fabric or damaging the arrow.  As they began to shoot again, the instructors gave individual attention to the boys’ stance, checking that their feet were a shoulder-width apart and that they had an upright posture and straight arm.  The combination of safety, strong instruction, and recognition of progress are hallmarks of Pemi’s commitment to our instructional program.

During this one particular hour of note, four nature occupations were meeting, exploring and discovering the world around us.  Deb Kure led the Animals and Animal Homes occupation, this week preparing the group for an upcoming trip to a porcupine den, now vacant in the summer months. Matthew Cornell and Will Olsen investigated the porcupine quills, eagerly awaiting more information from Deb.  Within a stone’s throw was Ponds and Streams, a classic nature offering that has been extremely popular this summer.  Each boy carried a net through the stream, actively seeking organisms native to the stream habitat.  Ty Avery uncovered a salamander, while Jack Wright and Will Noble caught water spiders.  The boys were eager to share their discoveries with the group, and intently listened to what the others had to say about their findings.  Inside the Nature Lodge Library, the Nature Drawing-Water Colors occupation was underway, led by Kristen Cole.  Music played to set a creative mood, helping the boys in find inspiration from their natural surroundings.  Michael Kelly colored a mountain scene reflected off of a pool of water, using high-quality water color pencils as his tools. Caleb Tempro, while canoeing earlier in the morning, had found a flower on Lower Baker Pond and began to trace its basic shape before painting in the details.  The final nature offering was the ever-popular Wild Foods, led by Larry.  This group was off-site collecting their next tasty ingredient for a delicious – and unusual – upcoming meal.

Going full tilt further down the camp road in J-Ville was Deb Pannel’s Art World, today focusing on African Mask making.  The boys, of all ages I might add, had constructed the basic frame of the mask using cardboard and were in the paper mache process when I stepped in.  Lots of unique artistic visages were taking shape before receiving the final coat of paint.  Henry Seebeck explained his design, as he chose to create a round nose, triangular mouth, and a yet to be decided eye.  Eli Brennan’s choice in eyes was clear –  only one – as his African Mask was a cyclops¸with a long nose and almost bunny-shaped ears.

In the Junior Lodge, Ryan Fauver and the Advanced Music Class were practicing their riffs.  This music occupation, like African Mask making, was a mixed-age activity with Senior Jarrett Moore on the drums, Lower Jivan Khakee on the clarinet, and Junior Nick Holquist on the trumpet.  The group listened to Freddie Hubbard’s piece “Red Clay” and made a game effort to emulate the patterns and the chord changes. The potential was clearly there for a hip performance at an upcoming vaudeville or campfire.

Just outside was the Knee/Wakeboarding occupation, one of Pemi’s most popular and sought-after activities.  Graham Struthers, on his second day on a wake-board, successfully stood up and traveled the full loop around the lake.  Devin Hohman showed improvement in jumping the wakes, a more advanced maneuver, and was very pleased with his progress.  Perhaps in an effort to beat the heat of this summer, windsurfing has become a close second to this last activity in terms of its popularity.  Alex Sheikh was caught grinning ear-to-ear while carrying his sail out of the water.  He commented on the strength necessary to pull the sail up and the balance and touch needed to surf properly.  He advanced on the learning curve every single day, explained Alex, who was clearly enjoying his time on what we used to call a sail board.

Back on land was Jeff Greene, our Head of Tennis, who had a small army of 12-year-old tennis players improving their net game in a version of King of the Court.  In a best-of-three-point challenge, partners needed to win two points while approaching the net.  If the winners, the Kings, held their court, a new duo would step up from behind to challenge.  If the Kings were unseated, those challengers would race to the other side of the court to take their rightful place as the new Kings.  This fast-moving activity allowed many boys to be involved and to improve an important skill to count amidst their tennis arsenal.

Seeing so many occupations underway during one hour demonstrates in a marked way the breadth of choices that Pemi boys have, and further highlights the importance of offering such a dynamic range of choices.  The campers were so engrossed in the great variety of options, and it’s even more impressive that each occupation was staffed by caring and knowledgeable instructors.  Each counselor was focused on creating a goal individualized for each boy, whether introducing a new activity or  concept or helping him master a previously discovered area of interest, and provided just the right amount of coaching to achieve that goal.

“We don’t know of many camps that do this, and it’s an initiative of which we are very proud.”

The passion of our instructors is evident to anyone lucky enough to see our full-time staff in action.  Occasionally, though, we are fortunate to have Visiting Professionals join our ranks to raise our already first-rate instruction to even greater heights. Some of these experts from the outside world can offer a week or more of their time to our program, while others offer singular afternoon events that leave the boys thirsty for more.

One wildly successful example was the Silk Painting Workshop held the past two Sunday afternoons by Zosia Livingstone-Peters. Zosia, a graduate of the Pratt Institute in New York with a focus in Fashion Design, has found great success bringing her workshop to elementary schools and wellness centers in Vermont.  The boys at Pemi love it as well, as it offers them the chance to experiment with different mediums while creating their own individual works of wearable art.  Many of the silk scarves will soon be traveling homeward as gifts for you lucky mothers.  [Ooops. Did we forget our spoiler alert?]

Jim Dehls, a Pemi boy from 1959-1965 and an Assistant Counselor in 1968¸added to our already stellar music staff earlier this summer, during Week 2.  Jim, a former high school choral and general music teacher, currently offers private piano and voice lessons as well as hospice music therapy.  During his stay with us, Jim worked with the Gilbert and Sullivan Pirates chorus, arranged and sang The Marching Song with the a cappella group, and created our first ever Drum Circle occupation, focusing on a variety of types of percussion instruments and non-conventional devices.  Jim’s love for Gilbert and Sullivan operettas began at Pemi in the early sixties, and they are something that still engage his time and sustain his interest.

During week three, Brian and Alison Mitchell visited, lending their hands to the Lacrosse and Diving programs respectively.  Brian, a soccer and lacrosse coach at the Boys Latin School in Baltimore, MD, and Alison, a former springboard diver at Virginia, combine their expertise with their love for Pemi.  The boys enjoyed learning the fundamentals of diving from Alison, working on the timing of their jump and the use of their hands for a smoother entry.

Trey Blair, one of the Varsity Baseball coaches at the Kentucky Country Day School in Louisville, has enhanced our baseball program over the past two weeks and is guiding our instruction for this week’s culminating five baseball match-ups against Camp Tecumseh.  Trey, a four-year standout player at Kenyon College, works with large, eager groups during the occupations and then offers individualized instruction after our structured occupations for those boys interested in learning the nuances of fielding, hitting, or pitching.

Finally, Susan Perabo, one of Tom Reed’s colleagues and Writer-in-Residence at Dickinson College, recently offered poetry workshops in the Library, inspiring the participants to lend apt words to their many varied experiences and perceptions at camp and in life generally. As always, getting the chance to meet with someone “new to camp” who nonetheless so clearly cares about their development as young and creative individuals offers the boys rewards that far surpass what they might have anticipated. We don’t know of many camps that do this, and it’s an initiative of which we are very proud.

That’s it for now. When your son returns home come mid-August, be sure to ask him for details about who’s been teaching him what – and what he’s learned. Better yet, ask him to play that Frankie Hubbard tune, demonstrate that change-up, or explain where he found that Luna moth or the natural dye for that wool.

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