It’s been a week since I returned from Camp ALEC. I’m still trying to wrap my brain around everything I experienced and learned throughout the week. I do know with absolute certainty that Drs. Karen Erickson and David Koppenhaver are the most amazing educators I have ever met. I knew they were extraordinary individuals when my dear friend Gina and I first approached them about conducting this literacy camp for children with complex communication needs. I had seen the impact their work had on my son Mateo when he attended a similar camp in Minnesota for two consecutive summers. But it wasn’t until I saw them in action that I TRULY appreciated that they wholeheartedly share the same commitment to changing the world as we do. And I will forever be grateful for this incredible opportunity to learn from them and collaborate with them.
This was the first Camp ALEC and the first camp of its kind offered in the United States. Together, we gathered 15 campers and 14 educators, speech-language pathologists and school administrators from the U.S. and Canada at Variety Club Camp and Developmental Center in Norristown, PA for a week of reading and writing assessment and interventions–plus a typical summer camp experience. Each camper received a total of 17.5 hours of individual and small group assessment and instruction throughout the week. The goals of Camp ALEC included building the skills of the adults who participated and determining how the campers like Mateo can be supported in further developing their reading and writing skills during the coming school year. At the conclusion of camp, parents had an opportunity to have a conference with their child’s educator, as well as Karen and David, and left with a report detailing the results of their informal reading and writing assessment and instructional recommendations. Our hope is that parents will share those recommendations with teachers so that they can implement evidence-based instructional strategies that will ensure greater progress in school.
I cannot express the joy I felt watching our campers work with David, Karen and the educators throughout the week. These amazing children and young adults came to camp ready and willing to work HARD and have a blast while they did it. Many of our campers had never been away from their families on their own before. We witnessed homesickness and it broke our hearts. We tried our best to comfort these kids while learning from veteran camp counselors about tough love. This was particularly challenging for us “Camp Moms” and we got ourselves into a lot of trouble trying to maintain a balance between nurturing and pushing the kids to ditch their cell phones and embrace the entire solo camp experience. I am so incredibly proud of every one of our campers!
Throughout the week, I began to question my decision to leave the schools–at least for now–to work in a hospital outpatient pediatric rehab setting. Truth be told, watching these educators work with our campers often made me wish I were headed back to my own classroom in a few weeks. But I’ve absolutely loved my new experiences at the hospital where I am working with children before they even enter the school system. Here, I can begin to help children find their voices earlier!
“If a functional communication system has not been put into place with a child, his only recourse is behavior.” – Dr. Temple Grandin
Down the road, I’ll share specific strategies for helping children with complex communication needs build independent reading and writing skills. For now, I’m just basking in the glow of this beautiful experience, catching up on some sleep and beginning to plan our next Camp ALEC! Stay tuned!
Language + Literacy = Empowerment