A Piece of My Mind: Summer camp season

Whenever my summer wanderings take me to Stanford University, that beautiful sandstone and terra-cotta campus up the road, I marvel at the multiplicity of signs directing me to this or that summer camp. There always seem to be squadrons of T-shirted campers on the move, being directed this way and that by polo-shirted counselors, all wearing color-coded lanyards and name tags to make sure that they are getting all of the perks, and none but the perks, to which their campership entitles them.

When I was in my pre-teens, camp was different.

For one thing, we didn’t wear lanyards, we made them. At the mandatory craft class, the one project you could be almost sure of finishing was the one involving braiding long, brightly colored strips of plastic into key chains and whistle cords. We could do spiral or diamond pattern for the cords, round or square for the sliders. We could make key chains from four-strand, six-strand or even eight-strand braids, using school colors, or Day-Glo, or even glow-in-the-dark plastic. After two years of Camp Fire Girl camps, my parents, near relatives and most of my teachers were supplied with all of the whistle holders they would ever need.

For another thing, though our camps were plain vanilla when it came to skin color, they were quite diverse in subject matter. In one week, we got tastes of archery, swimming, sailing, lanyard-making, leather-working, wood-carving, campfire building and the songs to sing around them, skit writing and performing.

Today’s camps up the road are different. The campers are culturally diverse, of all shapes, sizes, sexes and skin tones. But each camp seems to be focused on producing mastery in one area alone. The university sponsors camps for every type of sport, from basketball to water polo, plus specialized camps of all sorts. There is the Pre-Collegiate Summer Institute, the Medical Youth Science Program, the Sports Business Academy, the oxymoronic High School Summer College and even (for high school and pre-med students) the Cardiothoracic Surgical Skills Summer Institute. (Sounds like heart-stopping fun!)

In addition, privately sponsored camps offer training in Social Entrepreneurship, Advanced Suzuki Violin, Emergency Medicine, Global Citizenship, Computer Engineering for Girls, Journalism in the Digital Age, English Language Immersion, Performing Arts, Digital Discovery and much, much more.

When I was at summer camp, we spent time making up silly songs about our counselors, such as (to the tune of “Pretty Redwing”):

Oh, the moon shines tonight on Helen Waller

If she were taller

She wouldn’t holler,

And her old dirty shorts they need a patchin’

Where she’s been scratchin’

Her chigger bites

I can’t imagine any silly songs about cardiothoracic surgery, but maybe I’m not trying hard enough.

It happens that the local American Association of University Women branch, to which I belong, sponsors a half-dozen local girls at one of Stanford’s summer camps, one that encourages girls to consider careers in science and technology. Each August after the Tech Trek camp is over, we receive thank-you notes from the girls, telling us how much they appreciated the opportunity to learn to code computer games, build hover boards and do DNA gel electrophoresis. (I imagine them sitting around a table on the last day, dutifully filling in the blanks in a template as the counselors monitor them. At least that hasn’t changed from when we were “encouraged” to write letters home from camp). This year’s letters included a blessed hint of silliness; one girl mentioned that she enjoyed an afternoon of fountain-hopping around the campus, as well as a trial of ice-cream making.

Each September we host these scholars at an afternoon meeting where they tell us a bit about the camp. We will hear about the forensics lab, the robot-building, the rocket launch. But when it comes to the question-and-answer session, I’m planning to ask about the fountain-hopping and the ice cream – there should be some fun left in summer camp!

This year’s Tech Trek campers are scheduled to discuss their experiences 3-4:30 p.m. Sept. 17 at Neutra House, 183 Hillview Ave., Los Altos. All Town Crier readers are welcome to attend and ask questions. To RSVP and for more information, call Claire Noonan at 941-2843.

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