The Summer Inclusion Program at Charlottesville Parks and Recreation
What is the Summer Inclusion Program?
The Summer Inclusion Program is a local collaboration that provides mentors, adaptive materials, and on-going support to assist with the inclusion of children with special needs in Charlottesville Parks and Recreation summer camps. The Summer Inclusion Program’s mission is to help create a supportive environment for children who could use just a little extra assistance in camp, due to special needs. We provide trained mentors at each participating site. We provide simple adaptive materials. We offer a one hour training on inclusion to all summer camp personnel, and are available for additional trainings and support throughout the summer.
What does the mentor do?
Our mentors have two primary roles: They provide support and encouragement for children in order to help them become more comfortable and successful with activities that might otherwise prove challenging. They share strategies with other staff members so that all of the staff can better understand and accommodate children with special needs. The mentor is not a professional and is not there to address the underlying problems that create obstacles for the child. The mentor provides simple support and suggestions while at the same time encouraging children to function as independently as possible.
Specific duties vary according to the needs the students and staff, but may be expected to include the following:
• Provide occasional one-to-one or one-to-two support for children with needs for direct assistance.
• Provide positive behavioral support for children with neurological challenges, such as autism
spectrum disorders and intellectual disabilities.
• Offer adaptive strategies to help the students have fuller and more satisfying access to
• Assist with general program activities when identified campers are not in need of direct assistance.
In practice the mentor’s work plays out in a variety of ways, even in the same setting. Here are some of the things our mentors have done to help children be successful in Charlottesville Parks and Recreation Programs:
• Step in to help calm an agitated child.
• Offer suggestions on adapting activities.
• Simplify instructions.
• Take over a group so that another camp leader can focus on assisting a struggling child.
• Recommend solutions to reduce problem behaviors (one mentor created a safe place for a child
with autism who tended to run from the room when overwhelmed).
These are only a few of the ways the mentors have provided support to participating programs. The needs of each child and program will vary.
Does the mentor provide one-to-one support to children with special needs?
We do not have the staff to provide support for just one child. Typically, we find that there about seven children enrolled in a program who need support from time to time. Our mentors support these children as needed, and some require help more often than others, but mentors may need to be accessible to more than one child. Children who need one-to-one support consistently throughout the six weeks are unlikely to be able to access that level of support.
Who are the children you serve?
We are open to serving any child with special needs who can be expected to be successful with the level of support described above. Thus far, we have served children with autism spectrum disorders, cognitive challenges, mood disorders, ADHD, and learning disabilities. Children need to be able to function with a one-to-seven adult child ratio. They need to be able to respond to cues and supports we. As an example: the child who ran out when overwhelmed was successful because she responded well to reminders to go to her safe spot. If a child is unable to resist dangerous or disruptive behaviors even with cues, camp staff will need to evaluate the appropriateness and safety of the setting for this child at this time.
Will there be a mentor at every camp?
There will be a mentor assigned to every elementary and pre-teen site, a total of five camps. It is possible that the needs for support among these camps will be unbalanced, with one site needing little or no support and one needing more support than one mentor can readily provide. If that occurs, one mentor may flex to the camp with greater needs. There will be no mentors in the teen and summer playground programs.
What are the roles of Camping for All and The Enrichment Alliance?
Camping for All and The Enrichment Alliance are partnering organizations in The Summer Inclusion Program. Our staff assist in the recruitment and screening of mentors. We provide the mentors with pre-service training. We train all camp staff on the role of the mentor and provide some quick strategies for assisting children with the types of challenges we most typically see. Through the course of the summer, Deb Shapiro and Mary Anna Dunn will be visiting camps to observe, talk things over with staff, and make recommendations for assisting campers. We are available by phone and e-mail. We are available to offer up to one hour of additional training or consultation during the course of the summer, because we often find that camp staff have a better sense of what kind of training is needed once a session is up and running.
I think this might be a good match for my child. What do I do now?
You will need to enroll your child in Charlottesville Parks and Recreation’s summer program, indicating on the registration form that your child has special needs requiring support. You will be contacted by someone from The Summer Inclusion Program. Our personnel will not be making recommendations as to the suitability of the program to your child’s needs. That is your decision to make. We will have a candid discussion about what we can and cannot offer in the way of support, to allow you to make the best possible choice for your child. Conversations with school staff and service providers will help us understand your needs, so your consent to exchange of information would be appreciated. Consent forms may be downloaded at the Enrichment Alliance websites. Camp registration forms are available through the Charlottesville Parks and Recreation website. We will all do our best to help your child to have a positive experience, but please remember this is not a therapeutic or special education program and do not enroll your child if you do not believe s/he can function in the conditions described.
I don’t think my child can be successful with the level of support you are able to offer? What else is there?
Charlottesville Parks and Recreation offers a Therapeutic Recreation Program for children and youth with moderate disabilities, ages 8-21, at Crow Recreation Center. The program runs from 9:00am to 4:00pm Monday through Friday. After the summer camp program ends there is a 1-week Camp Creativity Program, a 1 week Camp Green Challenge Program for teens with disabilities and a 1-week adult camp.
For information on these programs contact Sarah Blech (434-970-3264).
For information about other local and regional programs for children with disabilities, contact Deb Shapiro at Camping for All (434-806-8835).