Blue Star Blog

Theatre Arts at Blue Star!

As we enter our 7th year as Directors of the Blue Star Camps Drama Department, we couldn’t be more excited to continue to bring our program to new heights!

In addition to careers in professional theatre, both of us (along with Camp Owner/Director, Lauren Popkin Herschthal) attended a Performing Arts High School. We know how valuable and enriching experiences in the arts can be for children and teens. Participation in theatre arts provides an invaluable education to our campers because, just like the camp experience itself, they become part of something bigger than themselves. It teaches responsibility to commit your time and energy to a theatrical production. It takes courage to share your talents as an offering with fellow cast members, the audience and community. It teaches you how to listen to others, open your heart, be respectful, increase self-awareness, work as a team AND be bold enough to let your inner light shine. There are so many life lessons and positive outcomes for our young performers at Blue Star!

In the past, we have created our own musical revues that have corresponded with the camp’s summer theme. While these have been well received and enjoyed by all, we know that many campers are eager to “take on” a scripted musical this summer. We are so excited to announce that we will be doing “Once on this Island (Jr.)” 1st session which ties into the summer theme, “Lead from Love”! “OOTI Jr.” has been adapted from the celebrated Broadway musical. This rousing Calypso-flavored tale follows one small girl who finds love in a world of prejudice.

We encourage campers who are interested in auditioning for the play to check out the cast recording of “Once on this Island”. Over the past several years we have grown our play participation from 30 campers in 2013 to over 100 in 2018! We will be holding auditions for specific roles in the first few days of camp. While not every camper that auditions will be cast, please know that we will do our best to create opportunities for participation for every camper who wants to be involved in helping us bring “OOTI Jr.” to the HeRo stage this summer.

We can’t wait to get started in just a couple weeks…wishing everyone safe travels to camp and the best Blue Star summer ever!

Taryn and Eddy

BSC Drama Directors

Failure as our Friend

Carpe diem.

Happy spring & pre-camp 2019!  Lauren & I are thinking a lot about how best to support all of our camp parents as you get ready to “say goodbye” to your camper for a week or seven.  Whether you are a veteran camp parent or this is your first summer, we are mindful that you will be experiencing a gamut of raw emotions around the transition to camp.  As parents, educators & fellow humans…we view our owner/director role partly as guides for all of our camp parents.  To that end, we wanted to share a tidbit of “parent ed” that we have found useful.

This off season we gifted each member of our Year-Round and summer leadership team the book, The Power of Moments by Dan & Chip Heath.  In it the co-authors break down the Why as well as the How of creating meaningful and memorable moments in all aspects of our lives.  One particular anecdote hit a nerve for many of us.  Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx, talks with the authors about how she has used failure to propel her toward finding success and meaning in her life.  She recalls a ritual at her family dinner table growing up where her father would posit the weekly question:  “What did you fail at this week?”

Blakely continues…“He knew that many people become paralyzed by the fear of failure. My father wanted us to try everything and feel free to push the envelope. His attitude taught me to define failure as not trying something I want to do instead of not achieving the right outcome.”

Wow!  Imagine if our children learn consistently that failure is not a “bad word” or something to be deathly feared.  Imagine if our children are encouraged, challenged & wholeheartedly supported in stretching beyond their comfort zones.  As parents, we want our children to become independent, resilient & confident.  The rub is that we can not develop these critical lifelong attributes without real conflict or tension.  The growth we hope our children experience happens through the hard and messy “work” of leaning into discomfort.  It is when we overcome adversity that we evolve.

At Blue Star we view our good work through the lens of creating a safe & healthful space where our staff can support our campers in experiencing meaningful positive growth.  It is not linear, nor is it easy.  One camp story that comes to mind is of a Senior camper who all but refused to climb Pinnacle several years ago.  They were hyper self-conscious of their physical size and did not possess the confidence to complete the hike.  A member of their leadership team enthusiastically encouraged them to go for it and leap beyond their comfort zone; after all, the staff member let them know that HE believed in them and would be right there with them.  Halfway up the mountain, the staff member literally put the camper on his back and finished the hike with them.  When the camper became a Teen Villager in their final year as a camper, they spoke at a Friday night Shabbat service about the growth and confidence they experienced over the years as a Blue Star camper.  The original thoughts centered around that very Pinnacle experience and brought the long-time staff member to tears.

We invite you to partner with us on this developmental journey.  With your trust, we believe firmly that we can help our campers become less fearful of failure; moreover, we are working towards teaching our campers how to turn failure into their friend.

 

Kindness Revolution

Carpe diem.

We hope this finds everyone feeling re-energized and re-charged from our high holiday season. With the annual transition from summer time to a new school year, I always feel extra grateful for the timing of our New Year which provides us the space to slow down…and reflect. During this season of renewal, I found myself immersed in one specific chapter of a book that our long-time leadership team member, Dana Eisenman, brought to the attention of our team recently. This chapter, “Empathetic Children Practice Kindness,” from Dr. Michele Borba’s UnSelfie resonates with me because of its pragmatic and highly applicable takeaways.

Citing the latest social science research, Dr. Borba writes convincingly about starting a “kindness revolution.” How do we ignite such a cultural movement? With our explicit guidance, support, and modeling, kids can lead the way by practicing “simple, regular kind acts” that nurture “empathy, alters behavior, changes a culture, and transforms lives.” Further, being kind “helps children tune in to other people’s feelings and needs, trust more, [and] step out of their own skins to understand others.” There was a time when practicing kindness was seen as good and fine, but it was just an extra warm and fuzzy bonus. True success in life did not demand being kind. Now scientific research demonstrates unequivocally that practicing kindness has the direct impact of “boosting health, reducing anxiety, enhancing self-esteem, increasing gratitude, and even elevating happiness.” Moreover, the more kids practice choosing kindness, intrinsically and without expecting an award or reward, “the likelier they’ll develop the skills to succeed in work and in life.” I’m in!

At Blue Star we choose kindness, not only in our summer themes, but more importantly in our intentional educational programming. Two examples are our weekly “Mensche on the bench” presentation and our daily cabin “Circle ups.” The former has become ingrained in our community culture with campers of all ages super mindful of being honored with this positive public recognition. Rather than a more traditional award ceremony that invariably focuses on some other type of achievement, whether academic or artistic or athletic, we focus on acknowledging outstanding character with a focus on kindness. In addition, the Circle up is more of a regular and routine “family meeting” with the explicit purpose of modeling how to safely and authentically share feelings with a peer group. We support our campers in opening their hearts and speaking their truth, while we also support them in mindfully listening with open hearts to their cabin mates.

As parents, we invite you to join us in kick starting an authentic kindness revolution! Here are two ideas you may find useful (I have for sure)…

“Pretend it’s twenty-five years from now and you’re at a family reunion eavesdropping on your now-grown kids discussing their childhoods. How are they describing your typical behavior? And what do they remember as ‘the most important messages’ you told them as kids?” This framing set of questions is what Dr. Borba refers to as her Family Reunion Test.

We know that our kids are always watching us and copying our behaviors. Our kids will imitate our kind (or our not-so-nice) behaviors. You model what is important. With that, after every school day around the dinner table, consider asking questions such as: “What did you do that you feel good about? What’s something nice that someone did for you? What’s something kind you did?” By adding or maybe even replacing these questions to the more usual (my old favorite), “What did you learn today?” we shift our emphasis of what truly matters to us.

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” – Aesop

 

Creativity & Resiliency…The Blue Star Edge

Carpe diem. And happy happy 2017! We hope everyone is enjoying a sweet and positive start to this New Year.

Creativity. Developing broadly as a human being. Independence.

In the midst of all of the transition we all are experiencing, we wanted to start this year with a
re-focus on how best to facilitate and support our children’s development. We are inspired to deepen the good work we have set out to do, remaining firmly committed to fostering kindness, compassion and empathy in the hearts and minds of our campers. As has been a pattern recently, a thoughtful Blue Star alumnus shared the following article from the parenting section of The Washington Post. In it Laura Clydesdale argues forcefully for the unique power of the sleepaway camp experience to help instill the three main attributes listed above, all of which lead to a positive competitive edge in life. Going against the tide of hyper focus on resume building experiences (for children of camper age!), Clydesdale cites wide-ranging research and thought leaders who identity these attributes as actually helping a child stand out in the crowd, and more importantly, be able to stand confidently on their own two feet.

At Blue Star we intentionally set the stage for daily experiences that spark creativity. For example, we have expanded our Arts program over the past several years to add more Blue Star Options within which our campers learn to think and act creatively, whether on their own or in groups. Further, all of our campers come up with their own cabin songs (or dances or skits) as part of our evening programs. We believe enhanced creativity also leads to critical problem solving, thinking different(ly), and even seeing the world from other perspectives.

Our Blue Star core outcomes (self-discovery, building community, and doing good) all lead our campers to developing more broadly as human beings. Each summer we have an overarching summer theme, weekly Shabbat sub-themes, and service projects geared toward this very development. Meeting every camper where they are at, we train our staff (and remind them through ongoing professional development) to see every child as unique, helping them grow through their difficult and positive experiences. Clydesdale puts forth, “Studies over the past decade have shown outdoor programs stimulate the development of interpersonal competencies, enhance leadership skills and have positive effects on adolescents’ sense of empowerment, self-control, independence, self-understanding, assertiveness, decision-making skills, self-esteem, leadership, academics, personality and interpersonal relations.” That’s development!

Of course, the most immediately accessible concept of independence can only happen if we let it happen with our children. Michael Thompson, author of Homesick and Happy (and many other youth development books and who we have referenced before), insists that “the only way children can grow into independence is to have their parents open the door and let them walk out. That’s what makes camp such a life-changing experience for children.” As we let our first-time camp parents know right up front, the initial separation often is harder for us parents than it is for our children. Independence yields resiliency. How better to prepare our children for the rest of their lives?!

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2016/05/09/can-sleep-away-camp-give-kids-a-competitive-advantage-in-life/?utm_term=.b6ebc1d4a465

Inclusion and Our Approach to Bullying

How we practice inclusion at Blue Star…

Co-Authored by Dana and Matt “Fish” Eisenman (of our Leadership Team) 

As we reflect on summer 2016, we cannot help but consider how the 2016 theme guided our daily experience at camp. Our theme, “We are One,” helped us towards our goal of attaining an ideal: a harmonious and inclusive summer camp community for all of our campers and staff. We are one cabin, one unit, one camp, one Blue Star, one community and one human family.

Sometimes the task of community building can be challenging, even at camp where our traditions and core values easily lend themselves to creating a cohesive, caring and inclusive community. We know, as part of growing up, our campers and staff can be met with challenges as they navigate various aspects of their social lives in myriad settings. Testing the accepted social boundaries to establish one’s role in the group is a developmentally appropriate behavior, but when bullying becomes part of a group’s dynamic, it can erode the sense of security, well-being, and safety that we hope all campers and staff experience at camp. At Blue Star, we define bullying as repeated unwanted aggressive behavior that involves a power imbalance.  

Empathy is a key component of our approach to resolving these issues at camp. We avoid labeling campers and work to help all campers identify their role in the social world of camp, providing opportunities for them to make their own positive changes.

By employing empathy as a powerful tool for understanding, campers exhibiting bullying behavior are able to see the impact of their words and actions. In the tech-heavy lives of our campers they often do not have the opportunity to see how their behaviors impact others. At camp however, the responses are immediate and personal, and with guidance from a staff member, campers are able to feel the impact of their actions. As the people who are directly responsible for campers’ social-emotional well-being, our camp leadership team and counselors encourage campers to take ownership of their camp experiences by providing guidance as they navigate these social challenges. The real work of camp is to scaffold and support all children in coping with these challenges and learning from the experience to help them discover their best selves.

Our ongoing theme also teaches inclusion. Inclusion requires campers to go beyond tolerance and encourages them to learn about others, empathize, and become part of one community. Camp is the ideal place to reflect on and learn from all experiences and return to home and school with a renewed sense of self and the compassion and love of a caring camp community. We are always One…

*For more information on bullying, see stopbullying.gov

Reflections for a Sweet New Year!

aCarpe diem.

We want to create a moment to reflect with our camp community on our past summer and wish everyone a beautifully sweet New Year. This time of year provides us with a precious opportunity to slow down, pause, and reflect on where we are and where we are going. What an amazing summer of Blue Star magic we all created together! In so doing we have been working hard on helping each camper realize our three core outcomes…Self-discovery; Building community; and Doing good. As we reflect and seek to learn from this past summer we are asking ourselves a big question (that we encourage all camp parents to ask ourselves): In twenty years, if our children are asked what they learned from us about building community, what will they say?

Hopefully, Blue Star campers will have learned that building community requires positive action. Each of us holds the power to actively contribute to the type of community within which we want to live. If we start the journey with a kind and open heart, then we ultimately will speak and act from a place of love. Beginning with our cabin and unit groups, the process of community building will not be perfect or without challenges. When we assume good intentions, practice forgiveness, and learn to constructively communicate through our conflicts…we will have learned from camp how best to influence positively our home communities.

Since the school year (our “off season”) has begun we have heard so many beautiful stories from camp families about the Blue Star magic seeping into life back at home. One example is from a first-time Blue Star family whose daughter recently hosted a weekend “Blue Star swim party” complete with camp games, a pop-up Granny’s store (yes, there were Big Boppers!), and almost an entire unit of campers building community together. Being kind and welcoming to one another while having a super fun time…that’s the Blue Star magic.

Wishing everyone a reflective and meaningful New Year filled with Onelove…L’Shanah Tova!

Summer Theme 2016…We are One!

Carpe diem. Here comes the roll out of our Theme for Summer 2016…We are super pumped to share our theme with you earlier than usual this season. Lauren & I are grateful that we were able to spend this past weekend engaged with our Camp Leader team to vision for this coming summer. A foundational part of our good work together is to explore what our summer theme will be and how it connects to our Core Values and Mission. Without further adieu…our summer theme is “We are One” {אנחנו אחד}.

Blue-Star-2016-Theme

Building community in an intentional way is one of our three core outcomes for all of our campers every summer. While we encourage each camper to discover their best self, we also are asking them to become engaged members of our community. How do we scaffold community building? Think about concentric circles. Beginning with the innermost circle of One Cabin, we extend outward to a second layer of One Unit. From there we ripple out further with One Camp before finally merging as One Blue Star. Within each of these circles campers find opportunities where they not only feel known, needed, and cared for; moreover, they possess the power to positively shape their communities.

Delving deeper into the meanings of the Hebrew word for “One,” I am struck by a particular use which translates to “One-ity,” reminiscent of the concept of unity. At Blue Star, we are committed to showing and reminding campers how to bridge divides, open our hearts, and welcome others into an inclusive community in which everyone is accepted.

As always, our camp programs and projects will be centered around the concept of “tikkun olam,” of healing the “one world” we all share. Our summer theme for 2016 hopes to inspire a spirit of civic engagement as well as a deeper understanding of the universal “one-ness” that connects all people. Lauren & I hope that our campers will connect to each other and the world around them in ways that honor and highlight inclusiveness, understanding, and open-heartedness.

We are One…“One love, One heart” and one Blue Star family!

What is the secret ingredient in the BSC Magic?!

Carpe diem. Lauren & I hope this finds everyone feeling good and enjoying the holiday season. We hope you had an extra bright Hanukkah and wish you only the very best for the New Year 2016! As we approach the annual ritual of “winter break,” we wanted to share an article that struck us at our core. Those of us in the Blue Star family (all of you!) reminisce and dream often of that Blue Star “magic.” What we might consider less is what actually makes or helps create that magic. That is, what is the secret ingredient (the special sauce, if you will) in the very center of the magic? The answer is below; just keep reading…

A long-time alum and very special friend of Blue Star, Walter Solomon, passed along the following article to Lauren and me from the website, ejewishphilanthropy.com. In the article, The Secret Ingredient of Summer Camp Magic, writer/educator Benjamin Kramarz explains that the recipe can be found in the concept of liminality. Kramarz defines liminality as the “state of being in transition” floating amorphously between one stage or place and the next, whether of development or more concretely as in school grades. Our good work at Blue Star is focused on harnessing that transitional time and space to create the conditions for personal and communal transformation.

http://ejewishphilanthropy.com/the-secret-ingredient-of-summer-camp-magic/?utm_source=Tues+Oct+13n*&utm_campaign=Tues+Oct+13&utm_medium=email

How does it work? We intentionally build a community every summer that is filled with “good people” who are almost all in a state of transition. Our counselors are trained vigorously to model “how to be” in this unique state of being and guide their campers through it. Layered in is our meticulously designed program structure that rests on two foundational principles: First, we leave plenty of healthy space for unstructured time where campers are allowed to do what they want to do (with adult supervision and within extremely safe physical surroundings); Second, campers are encouraged and supported in choosing their own main activity options (or electives) where they can discover their best selves. To take the learning and growth to the next level, reflection is built in both informally and formally through myriad activities such as cabin circles, rose n’ thorns, and key log ceremonies.

We have written previously about transition. Transition, or change more broadly, is super difficult for many of us (for me personally). You will be reading this during a transitional time of winter break, between school semesters, and as we shift from one year to the next. The beauty and strength of the Blue Star experience anchors in embracing the in-between state(s) and harnessing their awesome growth potential.