My Experience with Clark's Catastrophic
Community Calamity for Kids
Neighborhood kids play in the lifeguard-less swimming hole at Crystal Park.
(pic by Jody Gray)
There was no discussion of possible problems that could arise with the campers, things to watch for as legal liabilities, or any CPR/First Aid training. Furthermore, I found out neither I, nor my co-counselors, were lifeguard-certified in case we went swimming, or spoke Spanish which was the primary language of the kids in the neighborhood. Also, I learn that my co-counselors had limited, if any, experience working with kids, let alone inner city kids. But of course, only three people applied for the job. Then, on top of all the other problems, we had no kids to start! The plan was that campers were supposed to miraculously show up at the camp, eager to sing, dance, and have fun.
When the first Monday of camp arrived, I was scared. The three of us had no idea what to expect. Would the kids just show up? What if no campers show up at all? What do we do then? Armed with games, cards, footballs, baseballs, basketballs, and fake enthusiasm, we marched into Crystal Park in search of campers.
I really had never been to Crystal Park before, and noticed a ton of potential problems were waiting to happen: there was no bathroom in sight, no undercover area in case of rain, and no centralized location where we could leave our stuff and keep an eye on the kids at the same time. All there was was a couple of picnic tables, a ratty-old tennis court, a large pool about three feet deep, and some basketball courts off in the distance. It would be easy for the kids to run-off without our knowledge. Needless to say, the first week was a disaster.
From the very first day, we realized that the schedule was useless. The camp was organized, or disorganized, in a way conducive to spontaneity and not structure. The three us had activities scheduled at certain times, but we ended up playing a pick-up games of basketball, baseball, or whatever the kids wanted to do.
In the morning some of the kids asked me if they could play on the swings. I said "sure" and went over to the playground with them. The kids were all very hyper, running around, climbing up on top of the slide, and just being kids.
Before I knew it, there were seven, or eight kids at the playground, and they were all out of control. Some of the kids kept on climbing the bars of the swing set and we told them get down so they would not hurt themselves. After warning these kids three times to come down from the swing set, I got mad and told them to get down.
While I was dealing with the two trouble- makers, another camper, who was behind me, jumped off a ledge surrounding the playground and landed on his head. I turned around and saw him laying on the ground. He said he was alright, stood up, and vomited. Mike and Julie came over to assist me and the three of us stood there in horror not knowing what to do and lacking the First Aid training that we were supposed to have gotten during the training week.
Mike took the kid to Campus Police and he ended up being alright. Legally, we could have been in a lot of trouble if he ended up going to the hospital. We did not know what to expect the first day, and a lot of the kids showed up without any parents, so only the campers who showed with their parents had signed medical releases. Even worse, because neither I or my co-counselors were trained in First Aid, we could have been held responsible. Luckily, this didn't happen.
I realized learned this camp was an accident waiting to happen. Unfortunately, this was only the first morning of the first day and the afternoon offered more surprises.
The camp went on till 3:30, but by 1pm the kids were bored. We thought we could take them to Clark and let them play games and ping-pong in the University Center. Surprisingly, this was a bad idea. Kids were running all over the building with no control. They refused to listen to direction. Then, after countless warnings to not use the elevators, the kids got the elevator jammed.
Three-thirty did not come soon enough, and Mike, Julie, and I were exhausted. The day had been spent as babysitters and not counselors. Mike told me that he "wanted to throw up." I did too, but I wrote it off. "It's the first day of camp, it will get better," I thought. But it did not, and the week got progressively worse.
The second day of camp started off fine. We did some arts and crafts activities, played some basketball, and actually started to establish a repoire with the kids. Things were looking up. In the afternoon, we were scheduled to play in the Kneller gym for an hour. This looked promising because we could keep an eye on all the campers. We thought the afternoon went fine. The kids behaved themselves relatively well, and we started to gain some faith in the camp. But the next day we were approached by one of the mothers, and she was livid.
She told us that one of the older male campers had grabbed her 11-year-old daughter and tried "to rape her." We were shocked. None of us saw the incident so we could not confirm or deny what supposedly happened. The alleged incident took place right before we were leaving the gym in the men's bathroom. Lots of kids went outside the gym to use the bathroom and drink some water and, with another twelve kids inside the gym, there was no way we could have seen the incident.
Even though we did not witness what happened, we certainly could not write off the girl's complaint of alleged rape. We discussed the incident with Jack Foley and he said kick the male camper out. We agreed. From a legal standpoint we had to. The next morning Mike told the camper our decision, and he accepted it. Unfortunately, reality got in the way of the solution.
Since the Camp had no building, we could not physically kick him out. Crystal Park was a public park, and there was no way we could prevent him from coming and going as he pleased. All we could do was dissuade him from using our equipment or associating himself with the camp.
The whole thing made me queasy. What were we going to do if he tries to play basketball with us? The previous day some random neighborhood kids joined in a game of baseball and we had no problem with it. Would we have to call the Police to remove him from the park? I did not want to do that. He had the same right to be in the park as we did. This issue was never unresolved at the end of the summer.
To make matters worse, the City of Worcester provided a free breakfast and lunch program, which all of our kids participated in. We certainly could not prevent him from getting lunch. As if this fiasco were not enough, we also had problems with the lunch program itself.
The first week was a short week because of the 4th of July weekend. We thought we would treat the kids to a movie on the Clark campus. The skies were overcast and we worried about the possibility of rain. At ten o'clock, we went to the Clark campus and showed the kids Star Wars in the Jefferson Academic Center. The lunch program worked on a screwy schedule where lunch would be delivered around ten-thirty in the morning, so Mike went over to the park to wait for the food, and he was going to bring the food to the room we were watching the movie. Unfortunately it started raining and we learned that the food program does not operate when it rains...
by Nathan Kleinberger
An annual rite of summer is the sprouting of summer camps across the country. This is the time where parents send their children off to faraway places such as Neotsu, Ogowa-wampum, and Kennebunkport, or day camps like the YMCA's, JCC's, and Boys and Girls Club, to experience a "summer o' fun."
This summer I was assigned to work at a camp run by Clark University called the University Park Camp. It met across the street in Crystal Park. Our mission was to show neighborhood kids aged 8-14 a fun time by playing games, making arts and crafts, and do all those other cool camp activities. The Camp is a service to Main South residents: kids do not have to formally enroll, attendance is totally optional, and no one pays for anything.
For five of the last six years I had worked at various day and overnight camps, and had a lot of experience working with inner-city kids, so I was excited about this experience. I thought that this program would have an added benefit for me, because next year I would be teaching at one of the local middle schools and I thought I could meet some of my possible students. Unfortunately, what might have been a fun and rewarding experience turned out to be a lesson in incompetence, negligence, and trite tokenism.
The Camp was a misguided excuse for a summer camp with a lack of preparation, purpose, or experience. At all my other camp experiences I left feeling that I contributed to a wonderful experience and really had an impact on children's lives. This summer I left with a feeling of frustration and disgust. Even at the interview, I sensed something was wrong. My interview with Catherine Maddox-Wiley, the former Dean of Students, went something as follows:
Catherine: Have you worked with kids before?
Catherine: Do you know any sports or arts and crafts activities?
Catherine: Do you speak spanish?
Catherine: You're hired.
I was shocked. I told her nothing. There were no questions about what I would do in the event of a rainy day, or if I had any CPR/First Aid training. I didn't think much of it, but it seemed odd. A week later I was informed that the camp was now run by Jack Foley's office, Executive Assistant to the President, instead of the Dean of Students Office. It ended up no one wanted to deal with it, so Jack took it under his supervision.
The last monday in June, my co-counselors (I will call them Mike and Julie) and I showed at Jack's office for counselor training. We sat down with Jack, he shook our hands, told us to look at the materials from last year, and told us to: "just get through it." What was supposed to be counselor training never really happened.
My co-counselors and I spent two weeks doing an activity that should have only taken two hours. During the two week training period, we made a sign to promote the camp, went on a shopping trip for supplies, and made a schedule for the first weeks activities.