A More Authentic Life

The other night I had a conversation with our current CITs, the “counselors in training” who help at camp each session. There are 7 of them this session and they are all 17 years old. These are folks who have been at camp for many years, growing up at Rockbrook, and now are ready to take their first step toward being a counselor, working directly with children. It’s fun to hear how they are liking the experience. I often just ask, “how are you finding it?” or “what’s been surprising about life as a CIT?”

summer camp free time

One CIT answered, “I love how my campers are so real. They are so open and genuinely themselves.” Such a great description of what happens at camp! I think she meant, “compared to others I know,” these young kids are living a more authentic life. Compared to older people, these camp girls are more free to simply be kids, to not worry about things generally, and to romp through their day enthusiastically ready for anything.

I think this CIT was surprised by this because it was a new experience for her to spend this much time getting to know a group of younger children. Instead of kids, her world of high school students and adults seems less authentic, less open, less comfortable being OK with just being. It was interesting that this CIT admired her girls for this. She thought they were awesome! And I think, wished she could be that way too.

So how do these young campers do it? How do they live at this level? Do they have some kind of hidden strength? Some degree of moxie? Or, do they lack a certain maturity, seasoned insight into life, or assumptions about what is “correct” that most others possess? Or, can we attribute it to the environment of camp, the social landscape and culture they enjoy here?

summer camp tetherball game

We can probably assume all of these play a role for these kids.

They certainly do have inner strengths— a sense of curiosity toward the natural world, a playful energetic attitude that seems easy to apply, an inherent trust shown to everyone around them. Kids have a special power to laugh at almost anything. They can be entertained by almost anything, and be fascinated by the most “ordinary” things. Young children in particular are generally accepting and can make friends quickly and easily, happily able to join any group of other kids doing something together.

As we get older though, other tendencies take over. We begin to understand that praise and reward come from meeting certain standards and thus we feel some pressure to do that. We become aware of social expectations. We compare ourselves to others, making judgments about our self-worth. We learn what’s proper in various circumstances. We develop habits where convenience and comfort are the highest ideals. Each of these aspects of being an adult, it seems, work against the authenticity that CIT found remarkable about her campers. Kids have the joy of being themselves and ignoring most of this… while they’re kids.

summer camp relaxation

I think the camp environment plays a role too, and helps even the older campers here tap back into their childhood spirit. Our camp culture provides a real sense of freedom to be your true self without too much social pressure, attention to “perfection,” or worry about being accepted. So much of the day at camp is self directed, girls have more opportunities to follow their own interests and explore everything camp has to offer. We encourage silliness, joyful experimentation, and giving things a try just for the fun of it. The girls can sense that Rockbrook is a place that applauds creativity, self-expression, and positive relationships. We’re not competing with each other or making comparisons to assign value. Instead, it’s a place that celebrates no matter what the outcome… no matter the winner or the weather.

When the power went out yesterday during a truly giant thunderstorm, first there were screams of surprise but then plenty of delightful laughter. We hunkered down in the dining hall, sang songs, and made a dash back to the cabins for an extended rest hour waiting for the storm to pass. Some of the adults were scrambling to make sure the generator was working properly (thankfully it was), but the kids were in the moment and having fun.

Rockbrook is a place to put aside some of the assumptions, concerns and habits of being a “grownup,” and to experience the freedom to unearth more essential ways of being your true self… your sense of wonder and joy, your compassion, and your optimism. It’s place for kids to be kids.

Of course, the older we get, the more difficult that can be, and we might not be capable of fully embracing the openness of childhood. Worry has a way of wiggling in. But camp has a special ability to move us closer to that childhood truth. It can provide an enticing glimpse into living life more authentically.

Perhaps, that’s another reason why we all love being at camp. I think it is.

Competent and Worthwhile

Looking around camp, it’s hard not to be impressed. If you step into any activity area, you’ll find campers and counselors busy with the task at hand. It can be something simple like selecting colors of paint for a painting project. It can be girls showing incredible concentration and focus while aiming their rifle down range. During muffin break, there’ll be easy conversation and laughter bubbling up from genuine, unfiltered friendships. High up on the Alpine Tower, girls will be grunting a bit as they pull themselves up through a strenuous climbing move. There’s determination too— swimming laps in the lake, centering clay on the potter’s wheel, and serving tennis balls over the net. It’s all pretty astonishing.

I’m a little used to it (and really privileged to see it every year!), but I bet you’ve never experienced anything like this. There simply aren’t very many places designed to allow girls to develop their competence and demonstrate accomplishment like they do at camp. Rockbrook is a place where they get to explore, to practice and learn new things. It’s a place with opportunities to be creative, to be physical (even sporty!), and to be outdoorsy. Perhaps most importantly, camp is place to become more socially competent, to succeed at making friends, to relax into knowing you can be good friends with a diverse range of people.

In some ways, this is what we do all day at camp; we prove to girls that they are successful. But it’s not an “everybody’s a winner,” “blue ribbons for all” sort of thing. Instead we create the conditions where we’re not competing against each other, but instead are approaching everything without a fear of failure or judgment. Rockbrook’s culture is rooted in a joyful enthusiasm that inspires experimentation. We provide steady encouragement to support girls when they doubt their abilities, or are worried about if something they do will be “any good.” We’re not measuring anything, or giving out a grade of any kind. Around here, success comes from simply doing things, from taking that first step. And from what naturally follows as a second step, and so on. The outcome we’re seeking is not a final result, but rather a process that leads in a good direction.

The examples are endless. There are first steps everywhere at camp: close encounters with nature, communication between horse and rider, new pieces of art imagined, singing with friends on stage, or inventing a silly dance for a cabin skit. Simply navigating all of the daily decisions of camp life while away from parents —being good on her own— is a significant accomplishment. Just imagine the power of feeling good about all of this! It’s a feeling that motivates the girls to do even more, and to be proud of themselves.

The result for your Rockbrook girls is a growing positive self-esteem. In this environment infused with daily feelings of success and accomplishment, the girls strengthen their belief in themselves. Surrounded by people who care about them and who like them for who they really are, they know they are valued no matter how something they try turns out. This support from the community provides a freedom to explore how each of them is worthwhile. In this way, simply being at camp is a powerful boost for girls.

Once again. It’s astonishing!

horseback riding lesson

Ready for Camp in 2022

You can feel the excitement, because in just a few weeks, Rockbrook will be welcoming girls back to camp for the 2022 summer season! We’re all looking forward to camp and the fun of getting together in the “heart of a wooded mountain.”

We want to share with you our current plans for addressing the lingering impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Things have improved since last year at this time with higher vaccination rates, lower case numbers, and milder variants being predominant, but some risks remain.

Thank you for your patience as we have again consulted with our state and local health authorities, the American Camp Association, and other experts about what reasonable precautions we should now take to protect the health and safety of our camp community. As conditions have changed since last summer, some of our protocols are different, even as some have remained in place.

Questions!

Here are the answers to many of the questions we know you have about how camp will run and how we will handle COVID-19 concerns this summer. Here is what know at this time.

There is important information here to help you understand and prepare for your session at Rockbrook.

 

What pre-camp COVID-19 guidelines will we have?

sliding rock children

This summer, we will again ask our camp families to take important steps before they come to camp that will help us achieve the goal of every camper arriving at Rockbrook covid-free. This is a critical component of our plans for a healthy camp season, and we need your help!

All of these pre-camp guidelines were in place last summer.

We realize that to some these precautions may seem excessive, but we hope that everyone can understand how our entire camp community benefits if we all take a few simple steps to arrive at camp healthy.

14 days of pre-camp caution:
We ask that each family follow common sense precautions during these few days before camp. Please stay away from anyone with a potentially contagious disease, and anyone who is feeling sick or has symptoms. We want you to do your best to avoid contracting any communicable disease. Please consider avoiding large gatherings of people (e.g., parties, playdates, weddings, etc.), and unnecessary travel.

7 days of pre-camp symptom monitoring:
During these final days leading up to arrival at camp, parents will track the symptoms of their campers by completing a simple “health check” and recording their temperature on a paper form. This form is available in your online account and here. You will need to download it and print it. The form asks if your daughter is experiencing any symptoms consistent with COVID-19 that day, or has been exposed to anyone with a contagious illness. Important! We will collect this signed and completed form when you arrive on opening day.

Pre-camp Molecular PCR test sampled 3-4 days prior to arrival:
Campers must arrive with a recent negative molecular (PCR) COVID-19 test result. You may arrange for this test anywhere that can guarantee you receive the results prior to your arrival date. We want this test to occur as close to your arrival as possible, but still with enough time to receive results. Most PCR tests take 24-36 hours for results. You must bring written evidence of the negative COVID-19 test result with you on Opening Day.

As an option, we have again made arrangements with CommunityLab to provide at-home saliva-based PCR tests. After registering with CommunityLab, you will receive a sample kit in the mail with a pre-paid Fedex return label. CommunityLab will file with your health insurance plan. Please follow this link to learn more or register for this service. We recommend registering at least 14 days in advance of your arrival date.

camp horse girl

Strict Quarantining following PCR test sample:
Campers should strictly quarantine after taking their PCR test, as they await results and during the time leading up to their arrival at camp. Please take extraordinary care during this time, especially when traveling to camp.

Final Rapid Antigen Test:
On the day before arriving, all campers should take a rapid antigen test and bring a photo of the negative results with them on Opening Day.

Testing Positive or Recovered from COVID-19:
If your camper has recovered from COVID-19 (tested positive) in the last 90 days, it is important you contact our office with details of her positive test and recovery. The date of her positive diagnosis may change these pre-camp requirements. Likewise, if your pre-camp PCR test is positive, contact us right away.

Vaccination:
Ninty-nine percent of our counselors and activity instructors at Rockbrook will be vaccinated this summer. While not requiring COVID-19 vaccination for campers, Rockbrook highly recommends eligible campers be vaccinated if medically advisable. Campers are attending camp from all over the United States and from several other countries, and the available coronavirus vaccines have been proven to provide significant benefits to anyone living in a communal setting.

If your camper is vaccinated, she still needs to take the pre-camp PCR test. We ask also that she still complete the 7-day symptom monitoring form and carefully quarantine during those last days leading up to camp.


Will there be other testing at camp?

garden art project

We are not planning to conduct camp-wide surveillance testing of all campers during their session. Instead, we will be carefully monitoring everyone’s health on a daily basis, and administering a rapid antigen test only if a camper presents convincing COVID-19 symptoms. We will confirm the results of any positive rapid test with a followup molecular PCR test.

Our medical staff will contact parents if we determine their daughter should be tested, and keep them informed every step of the way.


How will activities work this summer?

Good news! This summer, campers will again select their individual activity schedules after they have arrived at camp. As before, there will be a rotation where each camper selects a new set of activities every 3 days. We will operate our regular daily schedule with its activity periods and blocks of free time.


What about out-of-camp trips?

whitewater rafting campers

All of our regular out-of-camp adventure trips will operate normally. Girls will be able to sign up for canoeing trips, whitewater kayaking trips, backpacking and day hiking, and rock climbing trips. These trips are optional. When girls choose to go on a trip, it means they will be skipping their scheduled activities for the duration of the outing. Girls who are 5th grade and older can go whitewater rafting if they choose.


And masks?

More good news! This summer we will not require campers to wear masks. Campers can wear a mask if they choose. We ask that campers still pack masks in the event that conditions change and masking is warranted.


How will Opening Day work?

We will again stagger Opening Day arrival times by grade. This helps us prevent long lines of cars and make the arrival of cabin groups go more smoothly.

Grade Completed:

  • K-3rd grade – 8:30am
  • 4th grade – 9:00am
  • 5th grade – 9:30am
  • 6th grade – 10:00am
  • 7th grade – 10:30am
  • 8th grade – 11:00am
  • 9th grade – 11:30am
  • 10th grade – 3:00pm-4:00pm on the prior Saturday.

These arrival times are according to the grade your child has just finished. If you have more than one camper in different grades, please arrive at either assigned time.

summer camp swimmers

Once you arrive at Rockbrook, you will first enter the Rockbrook Horseback Riding Center, located just south of the main camp entrance. This is the same as last year.

We will again use our “drive through” check-in procedure that will include stops for meeting the directors, office staff, and nurses. We ask that all family members stay in their car during this process.

When you arrive on opening day, it is critical that you have written evidence of your camper’s negative COVID-19 PCR test, plus the completed 7-day symptom monitoring form.
She must also be feeling healthy!

After checking in at the riding center, you will then drive into camp through the main entrance to meet your counselors and unload your luggage. This will be the last stop, and will be the time to say your goodbyes.

We know this may be a difficult time for families, but rest assured, our counselors will take extra care helping your daughter get settled into her cabin and begin the fun of meeting her bunk mates.

Don’t worry parents! You’ll be able to tour camp on closing day with your personal tour guide. 🙂

We will distribute pre-ordered camp gear, and do our regular head lice check after parents depart. Camp will launch into action right away!


What if my camper feels sick while at camp?

As always, we will do our very best to keep your daughter healthy and safe while at camp, and will be ready to care for her medical needs if she feels ill. Our medical team will be on the lookout for common COVID-19 symptoms throughout the session, and when concerned, will perform a rapid antigen test (We will try to contact parents prior to testing, but will not delay if they cannot be reached.). If a camper’s test is negative, we will continue to monitor and treat her symptoms in our Health Hut until she is fever-free for 24 hours (just as we do with any potentially contagious illness). If a camper’s test is confirmed with a second test to be positive, we will ask that you come pick her up as soon as possible (preferably within 24 hours). We have a special building dedicated to keeping sick campers comfortable and isolated from others at camp.


What if someone in my child’s cabin tests positive for having Covid-19?

shaving cream pair of girls

If we verify that someone in your daughter’s cabin has COVID-19, we will notify you right away of that exposure. Our medical staff will then monitor any exposed campers for signs or symptoms of illness, and perform a rapid antigen test if symptoms do arise. Our plan is to allow those exposed campers to stay at camp, but require them to wear a mask for five days when interacting with others outside their cabin.

If we do have a positive COVID-19 case at Rockbrook, we plan to let our greater camp community know as well. Without discussing the specific camper infected, we will identify the cabin group exposed, and any other relevant contact tracing information.


What is your refund policy?

Ordinarily Rockbrook does not offer refunds for campers who arrive late or must leave early from their camp session. For this summer of 2022, we have put in place a thorough set of reasonable measures to diminish the risk of contracting COVID-19, but we still cannot guarantee anyone attending Rockbrook will not become exposed or infected.

For this reason, like last summer, we will make an exception. If a camper must leave camp with a positive COVID-19 diagnosis, we will refund 50% of the tuition paid for the days she is unable to attend.


Wow! That’s a lot!

Yes it is! Reuniting as a camp community while still aware of the coronavirus requires us again to be extra cautious. At the same time, we are working to do everything we can to recreate the special feeling of camp we all enjoy. This summer, Rockbrook will again get girls outside, give them loads of fun activities to try, allow them to laugh and play like kids, and relax with friends in a truly caring and supportive community.

Thank you again for the support and confidence you have shown as we prepare for your daughter’s camp experience. We’re excited to see everyone back at Rockbrook!

If you have questions not covered here, or you need something clarified, please let us know.

blue ridge mountains

The Three Rules of Pranking

A few 9th graders grabbed me the other day to ask me a question. They had something on their mind and had heard that I needed to “approve” it. They were plotting a prank, specifically a prank on the 10th grade Hi-Up campers. They wanted to know if their idea for this prank would be “allowed.”

girl hiding behind a fern
pre-teen rifle shooting girl
young girl displaying her painting

Over the years, we’ve identified a few principles I have now come to call, “The Three Rules of Pranking.” Essentially, pranks are allowed if all three of these rules are true. So when these campers asked me, “Is pranking allowed at Rockbrook?” They were surprised to hear me say, “Yes, as long as you follow the three rules of pranking.”

So what are these pranking rules?

  1. The prank must be in the spirit of Rockbrook. That is to say, it must not be mean, insulting, or intended to ridicule or shame any person or group. Pranks should be funny, but not at the expense of anyone’s feelings.
  2. The prank must be something that can be undone; it cannot cause permanent damage. In other words, a prank cannot break anything, or ruin anyone’s property.
  3. The prankster or pranksters must be willing to help undo the prank if asked to do so. This can include cleaning.

 

That’s it! These are pretty simple rules, and when I explain them to campers, they immediately understand them. These particular 9th graders nodded their heads and said, “that makes sense.” It’s easy for them to imagine how unpleasant it would be to be pranked in a way that broke any of these rules. Nobody wants to be singled out and laughed at. Nobody wants their stuff messed up, and nobody wants to be stuck cleaning up something they didn’t cause.

The girls appreciate these rules too because instead of a long list of prohibited behaviors, the rules allow a great deal of creative freedom. When discussing the rules, you can see it on their faces. These wannabe pranksters are thinking of examples and modifying their ideas according to the rules. It seems like the girls appreciate that Rockbrook trusts them to adhere to the rules, and they gladly accept the responsibility for doing that.

Often, the girls still want me to “approve” their pranking ideas. They ask, “Would it be OK if we….?” And I often dodge that sort of question because I want them to be responsible for what they decide to do. I want them to think about whether their prank will follow the rules. They shouldn’t need me to figure that out. That’s how I answer. I ask them, “does you prank follow the three rules? If yes, then it’s fine.”

So what sort of pranks happen at Rockbrook? I hesitate to say much about this, not wanting to plant any ideas in the minds of a budding prankster out there. One classic example, however, comes to mind: moving a cabin’s dining hall table and chairs to another part of camp, and leaving a “ransom note” about where to find it. On multiple occasions in years past, groups of girls have eaten their breakfast sitting cross-legged on the floor of the dining hall because their table has vanished, only to be found later at lakefront, in the gym, or down at the landsports field. This kind of prank takes a lot of muscle to pull off, but is always an impressive feat. I hope you can see how it clearly abides by the RBC pranking rules.

Today was a rafting day. We again took a double trip down the Nantahala River, giving the remaining Middlers and Seniors their chance to experience the chilly thrill of whitewater. We were a bit worried about the weather as a cold front was moving through, but both trips ended up dodging the rain and having great conditions. Be sure to take a look at the photo gallery because there’s an entire album of shots from the trips. You’ll be able to see how much fun the girls had bouncing around in the boats, the delightfully silly socializing that went on, and the wide-eyed look of adventure on their faces as they blasted through the final rapid. Here are a couple of examples. Click each photo to see it enlarged.

If camp is about trying new things, being together as a community of friends, and developing a more confident sense of self, then these girls are completely on track. Pranks or no pranks, they are having a great time at camp.

Great summer camp pals

Extraordinary Moments

Have you ever wondered why girls love camp… tried to explain their smiling contentment, bright-eyed enthusiasm, and deep connection to their experience at Rockbrook? I certainly have tried. It’s just so odd… how great it is at camp, how meaningful, how truly extraordinary it is for kids. And yet, how most everywhere else, that seems less so.

Girls playing a gaga ball game

My best theories to explain this revolve around identifying how life at camp differs so dramatically from the rest of the year, and how those differences make a difference to the girls. For example, we can identify certain pressures girls experience in the outside world that are for the most part absent here at camp. Think, for example, of social media messaging and the distorted values it can wield (no instagram here!), academic expectations of excellence (no grades here!), and all manner of competition where ones self worth seems on the line (nobody cares who’s “best” at camp). Camp can reduce these pressures on your girls, and hence allow them to feel really good. “What a relief!” Similarly, though from the opposite point of view, there are positive things that camp provides that are difficult for schools to accomplish, things like experiences of high adventure, full-time immersion in Nature, or the freedom/responsibility of making daily decisions without ones parents shaping the outcome. “I needed that!” Whether we’re adding something lacking— responding to a deficit in their lives —or removing a negative force impacting them, camp is different and therefore satisfying in important ways.

sunet at rockbrook camp

An example of this came to mind as I wandered about after dinner today, during that time we call “twilight.” This is free time for the girls where they can do what they like. There are no scheduled activities, but we do always offer an optional game or event. That might be a tetherball “queen of the court” tournament, letter writing on the hill, gaga ball down at the gym, an 80s-themed “jazzercise” class on the archery field, a trip to the garden, or even a shaving cream fight for an entire age group. Most girls, though, use this time to hang out, to read their book sitting in their crazy creek chair, to soak their feet in the creek, to work on a friendship bracelet, or just to take a shower. Tonight there were at least a dozen small groups out on the hill, groups of friends enjoying a relaxed conversation, watching the light change on the distant mountains. Given the non-stop action of our day, as is usually the case, it was nice to see everyone enjoying a different pace.

That’s a difference worth noting. My hunch is that life at home has a more hectic pace as girls juggle time commitments at school, for sports and other after-school activities. There’s a tendency these days for our kids to be over-scheduled, even hyper-scheduled with very little time left over for more self-directed or relaxed activities. It’s rare for them to have blocks of truly free time where they— not parents, teachers or coaches —can decide what they’d like to do. There are probably small moments like that, but my hunch is that those get consumed by scrolling passively through some “feed,” or are criticized as “boring.” But not here! Instead, we have regular blocks of time dedicated to slowing down, allowing us to connect more deeply with people, and to soak in more thoroughly the beauty around us. At camp there’s time for girls to play freely, to lounge on the grass staring at the sunset, or simply to sit with friends letting their minds wander as they may.

It’s not the only reason, but I think girls love camp because it regularly provides these opportunities for free time. Oddly, there’s still plenty to do, but nothing that has to be done. And at camp, there are always friends to do it with, no matter what you end up doing. You may not have expected your girls to be just “hanging out” at camp, but trust me, when they do (amid their otherwise action-packed day), it’s pretty special.

Teenager hiking camp group

Our 16-year old “Hi-Ups” had their “cabin day” today. These are the girls who manage the tables at our meals. They set the tables before each meal (plates, cups, napkins, flatware, and serving utensils), deliver serving bowls of food to the tables, and afterwords clear all the dirty dishes, prepping them for the dishwashing in the kitchen. This summer, since we have spread out our dining areas to the “Tree Tops” hillside lodge porch, and the dining hall porch, the Hi-Ups are having to work even harder to get each meal set and cleaned up. Fortunately, we have a large group of these girls this session, and they have been great dividing up the chores and tackling them cheerfully.

This outing was a chance to take break from that, explore a bit, and enjoy each other’s company outdoors in this part of North Carolina. We decided to go hiking through some of the high country near the Shining Rock Wilderness area. Our route was an amazing loop that included scrambling over rocks, crossing a creek, hiking up a steep slope and down a slick trail to the bottom of a waterfall. A highlight was coming upon an ancient tree with long snaking roots exposed. It rained a bit on us, and it was sunny part of the time. We felt chilly, and later sweaty. When we made it back to the buses, we had a few scratches and smears of mud on our legs, and we were all a little wet, but it felt good and satisfying to be out there together. We knew this was an experience we would never repeat, certainly not with these same great friends. I guess that’s what camp is everyday… extraordinary moments of satisfaction with friends. Yes. I like it!

swimming camper girls

Such Togetherness!

Yesterday a longtime camp dad who was curious about how camp was going asked me, “how is camp different this summer?” He meant that given the lasting effects of the pandemic and continuing COVID restrictions, are there significant differences from previous years?

camp girl camp rifle shooting

Well sure… like all things, some aspects are the same, and some are different.

Probably the biggest difference this summer is how we are scheduling our in-camp daily activities. We are rotating through the various options as cabin groups instead of individually. Following guidance from the state health department, we are spending the majority of our day in these groups (“cohorts”). Everyone in the cabin will ride the ziplines together, make a tie-dye t-shirt together, and learn archery together. Such togetherness! You can imagine this challenges the girls to work on their inter-personal skills, to be better communicators, and at times to compromise. The counselors are aware that this summer will require them to focus a bit more on group dynamics making sure everyone is heard and respected, equally included in the cabin’s activities, whether that be clearing the table after meals or gathering up towels and sunscreen for a trip to the lake, for example. In one cabin there are bound to be messy girls and neat girls, those who are always ready and those who tend to be late, some that instinctively pitch in to help and some who are in their own world. Yet despite these differences, and the potential frustration they can cause at times, the girls handle this togetherness well. They adapt to the quirks of others, and learn to express their frustration kindly if things get too tough. Of course, the more time spent together, these girls are becoming closer friends with the others in their cabin. All that shared experience is building mutual understanding and care. I hope you got a sense of that from yesterday’s video. All the hugs, cracking up hilarity, and easy breezy conversation follows naturally among friends this good. Of course, this special bonding among camp friends happens every summer, but this year I suspect it will be even more pronounced among bunkmates.

crafty camp girls finger weaving

Another difference this summer is where we are eating our meals. We knew that our ordinary dining hall experience wouldn’t allow us to keep our cohorts properly distanced, so this past winter and spring we made significant expansions to two porches, one on the dining hall and the other on the hillside lodge. This has allowed us to split where our age groups eat their meals (creating “neighborhoods”), and to have about two thirds of the camp eat outdoors (the remaining third eats inside the open-air screened dining hall). Admittedly, this has created logistical challenges; serving the food, bussing the tables, making announcements, cleaning larger areas are all more difficult. But with help from the CITs and the Hi-Ups, the kitchen staff has done an amazing job keeping us fed. Where we are sitting is new, but we still enjoy made-from-scratch meals, freshly baked muffins everyday, and the fun group dining experience of singing camp songs between bites.

We are also having all camp picnics on the hill more often. Tonight’s dinner is a good example: charcoal-grilled burgers (or an “Impossible” plan-based option), all the fix-in’s like lettuce, tomato, pickles, cheese, a side tossed salad, with hand-cut, oven-roasted fries. The kitchen crew cut more than 150 pounds of potatoes to have enough for everyone! There was even a homemade “oat bar” for dessert. There’s a reason girls love the food at Rockbrook.

Two teen girls sliding down nc rock

Speaking of dessert, we surprised the girls after lunch today by having an ice cream party out on the hill. Affectionately known as the “Biltmore Train,” this is a long tradition at Rockbrook where the girls can indulge in several ice cream cones on a warm summer day. And today was exactly that: a beautiful sunny day, breezy and with very low humidity. The girls split into their age groups and lined up in three areas of the hill as counselors scooped and scooped for about an hour. Two or three cones later, you can imagine that the girls were quite, shall we say, “energetic” as they headed to their afternoon activities.

By the way, I don’t talk much about the weather in these posts. But if you are curious about what’s happening, you can check our Rockbrook weather station. It’s located on the roof of the office, and measures temperature, humidity, precipitation, etc., and through Weather Underground, provides a forecast as well.

For about 60 campers, the rest of the evening took them into the Pisgah National Forest for a ride down the famous Sliding Rock. Once again, going after hours was delightful. With our own lifeguards on duty, the girls and their counselors were able to slide 2 or 3 times before it was too dark to continue, though honestly I think they would have kept going if we let them. Screams and cheers, the splash of cold whitewater, and a dramatic plunge into the pool at the bottom— a night a Sliding Rock is full-on camp excitement.

So are things different at camp this summer? Yes and no. How we change activities, where we eat our meals, some of the logistics of trips and special events, plus new daily health checks, mask wearing under certain situations, and extra cleaning, are all different. Much still remains the same too: living immersed in this beautiful natural environment, being active everyday, developing social skills, having time to play, being independent, and growing more confident. Rockbrook is still a unique place where girls feel so at ease their authentic selves blossom, and being true like that helps them forge the most incredible bonds of friendship. All the best stuff about camp, the most important and lasting stuff, clearly remains.

goofy camp kids in NC

Ready for Camp in 2021

In just a few short weeks, Rockbrook will be welcoming girls back to camp for the opening of its summer 2021 season. All spring we’ve been considering new information about the coronavirus pandemic, hearing from communicable disease experts, and receiving detailed guidance from the American Camp Association and our state Health Department.

Using this advice, we have established a number of new protocols and made a few changes to our camp program that will help protect against a COVID-19 infection, and reduce the spread of any disease at camp. Our goal throughout this process has been to take reasonable precautions, but with an eye toward retaining the core elements of the Rockbrook experience.

Questions!

Here are the answers to many of the questions we know you have about how camp will run and how we will handle COVID-19 concerns this summer. Here is what know at this time.

There is important information here to help you understand and prepare for your session at Rockbrook.

 

What pre-camp COVID-19 guidelines will we have?

two camp girls on NC sliding rock

This summer, as we take precautions to guard against COVID-19, there will be several important pre-camp health protocols we are asking campers and their families to follow. All of these are designed to help us achieve the goal of every camper arriving at Rockbrook healthy and covid-free.

14 days of pre-camp quarantining:
We ask that each family follow common sense precautions during these few days leading up to their camper’s arrival at Rockbrook. By “quarantining” we mean wearing a mask and distancing when interacting with those outside your immediate family, avoiding gatherings of people (e.g., parties, playdates, weddings, etc.), and unnecessary travel. We also ask that campers do not eat inside restaurants during this time. To protect your camper, we encourage family members to likewise follow these precautions.

7 days of pre-camp symptom monitoring:
During these final days leading up to arrival at camp, parents will track the symptoms of their campers by completing a simple “health check” and recording their temperature on a paper form.  This form is available in your online account. You will need to download it and print it. The form asks if your daughter is experiencing any symptoms consistent with COVID-19 that day, or has been exposed to anyone with a contagious illness. Important! We will collect this signed and completed form when you arrive on opening day.

Pre-camp Molecular PCR test sampled 3-4 days prior to arrival:
Campers must arrive with a recent negative molecular (PCR) COVID-19 test result. You may arrange for this test anywhere that can guarantee you receive the results prior to your arrival date. We want this test to occur as close to your arrival as possible, but still with enough time to receive results.  Most PCR tests take 24-36 hours for results. You must bring written evidence of the negative COVID-19 test result with you on Opening Day.

Strict Quarantining following PCR test sample:
Campers should strictly quarantine after taking their PCR test, as they await results and during the time leading up to their arrival at camp. Please take extraordinary care during this time, especially when traveling to camp.

Testing Positive or Recovered from COVID-19:
If your camper has recovered from COVID-19 (tested positive in the past), it is important you contact our office with details of her positive test and recovery.  We will need written evidence of her positive test. The date of her positive diagnosis may change these pre-camp requirements.

Vaccination:
If your camper is vaccinated by the time her session begins, she still needs to take the PCR test, and we ask that she still complete the 7-days of symptom monitoring and careful quarantining during those last days leading up to camp. We will would like a copy of her vaccination record as well.


Will there be other testing at camp?

At this time, we are not planning to conduct camp-wide surveillance testing of all campers during their session. Instead, we will be carefully monitoring everyone’s health on a daily basis, and administering a rapid antigen test only if a camper presents convincing COVID-19 symptoms. We will confirm the results of any positive rapid test with a followup molecular PCR test.

Our medical staff will contact parents if we determine their daughter should be tested, and keep them informed every step of the way.


How will activities work this summer?

young horse camp girl

Ordinarily at Rockbrook, campers select their individual activity schedules after they have arrived at camp. This summer in 2021, as we take COVID-19 precautions, we will schedule in-camp activities according to cabin “family” groups.

We will create an activity rotation for each group that will include a range of adventure-, arts-, and sports-related activities. We hope campers will be able to enjoy their favorites and try a few new activities as well. There will still be free time and opportunities to enjoy the Rockbrook lake.

Horseback riding will remain an individual signup. Our riding director will interview girls on opening day.


What about out-of-camp trips?

Many out-of-camp adventure trips will allow individual choice. Girls will be able to sign up for canoeing trips, whitewater kayaking trips, backpacking and day hiking trips. Choosing to go on a trip means a camper will be skipping her scheduled activities for the duration of the trip. Cabin groups who are 5th grade and older will go whitewater rafting together.


Who will be vaccinated at camp?

At this point 99% of the counselors and activity instructors at Rockbrook will be vaccinated this summer. We are urging everyone on our staff to be vaccinated if eligible. We are grateful for the efforts our staff are taking to protect our camp community.

While a few campers will likely be vaccinated, and more so as the summer progresses, we do not plan to alter the health and safety measures established for this summer. We encourage all eligible campers to become vaccinated if medically advisable.


When will masks be required during camp?

two camp girls goofing around

Campers will not need to wear a mask when they are exclusively with their cohort (family cabin group). This means that for long stretches of time during the day, they can be mask-free: anytime when inside their cabin, at mealtimes with cabin mates, during activities held exclusively for their cabin group, and when it’s unsafe to wear a mask, for example when doing water sports like swimming, rafting and kayaking.

Otherwise, when encountering anyone from another cohort cabin family group, we will follow a “2-out-of-3” rule. This means we will make sure two out of the following three conditions are always met: outdoors, distanced and masked.

Outdoors + Distanced = No Mask Needed
Outdoors + No Distance = Mask Needed
Not Outdoors + Distanced = Mask Needed

In other words, girls will need to wear a mask only when distancing between girls in other cohorts is not possible, or when in an enclosed space.


How will Opening Day work?

For the summer of 2021, there are assigned arrival times staggered by age group. To prevent long lines of cars, we ask that campers arrive as follows (Your child’s grade is the one she just finished.):

Juniors (K-4th grades): 8:45am – 9:30am
Middlers (5th & 6th grades): 9:30am – 10:30am
Seniors (7th-9th grades): 10:30am – 12:00pm
Hi-Ups (10th grade): 3:00pm – 4:00pm (prior Saturday)

girls nc summer camp outdoors

Once you arrive at Rockbrook, you will first enter the Rockbrook Horseback Riding Center, located just south of the main camp entrance. This is different than previous years!

There is a new “drive through” check-in procedure that will include stops for meeting the directors, office staff, and nurses.  We ask that all family members stay in their car during this process.

When you arrive on opening day, it is critical that you have written evidence of your camper’s negative COVID-19 PCR test, plus the completed 7-day symptom monitoring form. She must also be feeling healthy!

After checking in at the riding center, you will then drive into camp through the main entrance to meet your counselors and unload your luggage.  This will be the last stop, and will be the time to say your goodbyes.

We know this may be a difficult time for families, but rest assured, our counselors will take extra care helping your daughter get settled into her cabin and begin the fun of meeting her bunk mates.

We will distribute pre-ordered camp gear, and do our regular head lice check after parents depart. Camp will launch into action right away!


What if my camper feels sick while at camp?

As always, we will do our very best to keep your daughter healthy and safe while at camp, and will be ready to care for her medical needs if she feels ill. Our medical team will be on the lookout for common COVID-19 symptoms throughout the session, and when concerned, will perform a rapid antigen test (We will try to contact parents prior to testing, but will not delay if they cannot be reached.). If a camper’s test is negative, we will continue to monitor and treat her symptoms in our Health Hut until she is fever-free for 24 hours (just as we do with any potentially contagious illness). If a camper’s test is confirmed with a second test to be positive, we will ask that you come pick her up as soon as possible (preferably within 24 hours). We have a special building dedicated to keeping sick campers comfortable and isolated from others at camp.


What if someone in my child’s cabin tests positive for having Covid-19?

If we verify that someone in your daughter’s cabin has COVID-19, we will contact you right away. Our medical staff will immediately evaluate everyone in that cabin group and arrange for a PCR test for each camper. If those campers test negative, we will screen them for any symptoms or signs of illness for seven days. They will take extra care to remain in their cohort distanced from others at camp, but will be able to continue to take their activities.

If we do have a positive COVID-19 case at Rockbrook, we plan to let our greater camp community know as well. Without discussing the specific camper infected, we will identify the cabin group exposed, and any other specific contact tracing information. Our decision to organize campers into cohorts (“family cabin groups”) and to properly distancing between them should make this information clear, and give us all confidence that the positive case is limited to that single cohort. If your daughter is not within that specific cohort, it is very unlikely she would have been exposed.


What is your refund policy?

camp children hugging

Ordinarily Rockbrook does not offer refunds for campers who arrive late or must leave early from their camp session.

For this summer of 2021, we have put in place a thorough set of reasonable measures to diminish the risk of contracting COVID-19, but we still cannot guarantee anyone attending Rockbrook will not become exposed or infected.

For this reason, this summer we will make an exception. If a camper must leave camp with a positive COVID-19 diagnosis, we will refund a prorated amount based on the days she is unable to attend.


Wow! That’s a lot!

Yes it is! Reuniting as a camp community while still grappling with the coronavirus requires us to be cautious. At the same time, we are working to do everything we can to recreate the special feeling of camp we all need— now more than ever. This summer will still mean time outside, lots of fun activities to try, a beautiful natural setting everywhere you turn, and the freedom to relax with friends in a caring supportive community. We’ll eat well, play hard, and laugh like we used to.

Thank you again for the support and confidence you have shown as we prepare for your daughter’s camp experience. We’re excited to see everyone back at Rockbrook!

If you have questions not covered here, or you need something clarified, please let us know.

three young teenage camp girls wearing climbing helmets

It’s the Season of Hygge

Thanksgiving is so hygge! Wait, what? What in the world is hygge, and how do I even pronounce it? To start with, it is a Danish word, and it is pronounced “hoo-gah.” Denmark has been getting a lot of attention lately, because the people in this country are known to have a very high level of personal satisfaction, informally known as the “happiest people in the world.” In a country where there is so little sunlight in the winter and the weather is usually cold and overcast, how can they be so happy? Some Danes claim it is because of their cultural concept of “hygge,” or “consciously cozy.” This is an important value in their culture, to make things as cozy as possible. And there are certain ingredients that help create a cozy atmosphere. As I was reading The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking, it made me so excited about the upcoming holiday of Thanksgiving, because it is a time when we all slow down enough to savor these cozy elements. And then I realized that the culture of Rockbrook really aligns with the concepts of hygge as well. No wonder I like the book so much!

Here are the essential ingredients to help create ‘hygge,’ according to Meik Wiking:

Camp Candlelight

1. Atmosphere: Turn down the lights, burn lots of candles and light the fire. From learning to build a campfire in WHOA to our spirit fire candles, we naturally create atmosphere often at Rockbrook. At your Thanksgiving table, add some candles and soft music.

2. Presence: Shut down the screens. Be here now. We all know how easy it is to be distracted by screens. Rockbrook girls tell me all the time what a relief it is to be without their phones at camp. Remind yourselves and your family to power down on Thanksgiving.

3. Pleasure: Take the time to really taste your food. Mmmm. Muffins. Turkey. Rockbrook girls run to the dining hall when the muffin break bell rings. Standing in the late morning sunshine as the fog is lifting and munching down on a pumpkin chocolate chip muffin is the best. You will surely have some wonderful dishes at your Thanksgiving table. Really savor them.

4. Equality: “We” over “me.” The community is stronger than just one individual. Camp is all about the amazing people we get to meet from all over the world. Your family is amazing too – slow down and have some complete conversations with them. Ask them unexpected questions and really listen to the answers.

5. Gratitude: Look around. Take it in. You are very lucky. There is so much activity at camp for girls that we build in times to reflect upon all of the wonderful parts of it. At the end of the day, campers and counselors talk about their “rose, bud, thorn” moments. Try asking those around your Thanksgiving table what they are grateful for before they dig into the food. (rose = the best part of your day, thorn = the most challenging part of your day, bud = what you are looking forward to the most)

6. Harmony: It’s not a competition. We already like you. There’s no need to brag about your achievements. Isn’t it the best to feel part of the gang, the big Rockbrook family? You don’t have to pretend to be different from how you really are. Your quirks are celebrated. Let your real family know how much you like them too.

Camp Togetherness

7. Comfort: Get comfy. Take a break. It’s OK to relax. Camp girls for sure know how to do this, as I see them lounging on the hill in their crazy creek chairs, wearing their footie pajamas, and braiding each other’s hair. Find cozy nooks in your home too and invite your Thanksgiving people to join you.

8. Truce: No drama. Let’s discuss politics another day. Sometimes it is a relief to step into the child’s world that is camp. Yes, there is a lot going on in the world that can be stressful, but we choose to put that aside for our camp session. Give yourself a break from that on Thanksgiving too!

9. Togetherness: Build relationships and shared experiences. Trying new things brings people together. Just as a white-water rafting adventure can bond a cabin group, doing something new as a family can build connections. Maybe a fun outdoor game to get moving on Turkey Day would provide exercise plus a little shared fun.

10. Shelter: This is your tribe. This is a place of peace and security. During the summer, we often get mountain gullywasher rainstorms. Those are the best times to get cozy in the cabin with our cabin mates, telling funny stories. Thanksgiving is a wonderful time when your tribe, your family comes together and enjoys that shelter of our relationships with each other.

From our Rockbrook family to yours, we hope you have warm, wonderful hygge Thanksgiving!

Camp Belonging

3rd Session Video Note

Robbie Francis of Go Swan Filmworks (and Rockbrook dad!) has returned this summer to film and edit more of his occasional highlights videos. Each video provides a fascinating 2-minute glimpse into life at camp, the buzz of activity, and the sweet friendships blossoming all around us.

Here is Robbie’s first video for the third session. Take a couple of minutes to watch. We think you’ll really enjoy it.

Click here for the video. Or see below.

2nd Session Video Note – Part Two

Robbie Francis of Go Swan Filmworks spent another day this past week filming at Rockbrook, capturing some of the sweet interactions at the heart of our camp community. And now we have another of his fascinating 2-minute videos to enjoy.

Take a look! There are moments of accomplishment, true affection, spirit, and of course sheer happiness.  Be sure to turn up the volume to enjoy the sounds of camp too.

Click here for the video. Or see below.