Justin Li


A Small But Important CTY Complaint

2009-08-13

CTY ended about a week ago, and I'm still very much in denial about it. I've mentioned previous that I wish the program would continue, even if it was just for one session. This summer was everything I had remembered it to be: the rush of seeing the light go on in the students, being swept away by the excitement in learning that everyone shows. I do, however, have one complaint, which I thought this site didn't do as well in comparison with last year. This involves the communication between staff members, and in particular, between the residential, instructional, and administrative staff.

As a residential camp for middle schoolers, CTY staff is not only responsible for the education of the campers; we are also responsible for the emotional and social well being of the kids. If the kids are older we'd have more problems (like people being in relationships, breaking up, or God forbid, getting pregnant), but at this age most of our problems have to do with being homesick, provoking or being provoked by others, and bullying or being bullied by others. All three happened to my students this year. Under CTY procedure, as a TA I am required to talk to the RAs several times every day, to find out if anything has happened to the kids over the night or during activities. There is a system of paperwork for everything that happens to a student, and those are left in mailboxes for staff to read. In theory, this system allows a rapid dissemination of information on the students, so everyone knows what's happen.

What I found this summer was that while the system is designed properly, people don't really follow them. I have seen TAs and RAs simply bringing the kids to the drop off point, then walk away after seeing they are picked up - without talking to that staff. The paperwork system, while detailed, does not provide a rapid enough response. In one case, I was lucky to have found out about an incident the morning after from the RA. They had put in the paperwork as well, but it had taken over a week for me to be notified of the administrative response. There was a worse case - I heard about the incident from the RA, and never ended up reading the paperwork. Although I knew the gist of what had happened, I didn't really have the details. And since the incident was rather serious, I would prefer to have it - but I didn't. And finally, there were things which I never knew until I read the paperwork - like the fact that one of my students had daily meetings with a member of the administration.

Don't get me wrong - things worked out great this summer, and as I said I had an awesome time. But I was really disappointed by the things I just pointed out, which not necessarily made my job harder, but it did give me unpleasant surprises. If I got the chance to talk to the staff before CTY started, I would say this:

Administration: My management philosophy is simple - it's about the people who's close to the action. For a summer camp, that would be the RAs, the TAs, and the instructors. We are here to make their jobs easier, here to support them. This means that we might have to work longer hours to resolve issues as soon as possible, or we might have to do extra work to ensure classes and activities goes as the RAs and instructors have planned. We get paid more not because we're more important, but because we have to work harder.

RAs: I know you have a tough job - you have to take care of over a dozen kids all by yourself, for multiple hours at a time, sometimes sacrificing sleep. But remember that besides making sure the kids are under supervision at all times, there is a larger goal: to keep them excited and motivated for class. Think about it this way: you can spend 5 minutes talking (and listening!) to the TA and instructor about a problem that arose, or you can spend hours afterwards trying to comfort the student, explain to the administration, or even the parent, about what happened. So please, talk to your TAs and instructors.

TAs and Instructors: You're what the camp is about. Congratulations. But your job is not just to teach the kids; as with the RAs, you have to make sure the students are having a good time. This certainly involves finding out about things which happened in the dorm, or during activities - and remember, finding out earlier saves time. If you could, however, lead an activity! Join the talent show! The kids are never more excited than seeing their TAs and instructors spending time with them outside of the classroom. If it doesn't earn you friends, it at least earns you camaraderie - and that goes a long way in talking with the students.

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