Happy Accidents

archery girl pull

During my time as an archery instructor this summer, I have noticed in some campers an expectation of high performance during their time on the range. Archery is a sport that requires an understanding of basic from when shooting, such as keeping your elbow up when you pull the bowstring back, keeping your feet parallel and a shoulder length apart, and keeping your arms straight. Often, if a shot does not land as expected campers can be quick to say “I’m not good at this” or “this is not for me” even after one or two tries. Admittedly, I have been this camper myself, and as I’ve transitioned from camper to counselor I have grown to recognize these kinds of perfectionistic tendencies in both myself and in campers.

Perfectionism, “a refusal to accept any standard short of perfection,” can be taught and internalized in children in many ways, especially in school where high achievement, high grades, and high standardized test scores are the expectation. Standards such as these are not inherently bad and can lead to greater success, but there can also be consequences that oftentimes lead children lacking confidence if they feel they aren’t achieving as well as they think they should be.

camp archery ready

Camp is a place for girls to leave perfectionism behind. It is a place where mistakes are understood as a part of the process of life and learning. Without the added pressures from high expectations, campers live their camp life to the fullest, and in the most fun ways possible— and giving girls the confidence to decide for themselves how they want to spend their days here.

As a camper, I always felt at ease during my summers at camp. The pressures of home and performance never affected what I did here, and I was always supported in my endeavors, even if I felt I had made mistakes. Making something because I wanted to and not for anyone else was also a freeing feeling. Now as a counselor, I try to give campers the same support and ease. In pottery, when we make slab mugs some campers will say “I don’t like how this turned out, can I have a new slab?” to which my fellow instructor and I reply “just flip it over and start again!”. Even if the camper does not like what they’ve made at first, trying something new or turning a mistake in an intended design can make a piece look even better.

summer camp skit fun

As a counselor, one of my favorite things to do is watch evening program camper skits. Certain nights the cabins on each line are given a wacky theme to create a skit around such as “Christmas in July” or “Moana meets Frozen”. Skits are a wonderful time for campers to let their creativity shine, design and wear funky costumes, and learn how to work together as a group. The campers never fail to come up with hilarious and out-of-the-box performances, and seeing the girls cracking up at their own antics during the skit and laughing together afterwards is always a delight. There is no right or wrong way to create a skit— no way to make it “perfect” —and I believe that is why the campers have so much fun making and performing them.

To conclude, at the start of this past rotation in Archery I was teaching a girl who, after a few arrows missed the target, claimed “I’m just not good enough at this.” However, as my co-instructor and I gave her a few tips and she got more used to shooting the bow, her aim became more accurate. At the end of class that day, four of her five arrows hit the white of the target and she cried with joy “I got them on the target! Look! I did it!” and she received congratulations and cheers from the other girls in the class. Today, that same camper got a bullseye! She was astonished and proud and we all cheered together. It was a great improvement from the first day of class, when she had expected a great shot on her first try. With guidance, practice, and confidence girls can do anything they set their minds to, and here at camp it is known that mistakes are just a part of learning.

—Hailey McGee, camper & counselor, 2010-present

camp teenagers

We Love You Counselors…

Camp counselors in waterfall

At Rockbrook, we talk a lot about the friendships that campers develop as the days and years go by. Many campers, reflecting on what makes Rockbrook a special place to them, talk about the people that they meet here — people that will color their memories of camp for years to come. Often, the people that come to mind when thinking of camp friends are peers — the people who are in your cabin, that you take activities with, that you go on adventure trips with. Tonight in the dining hall, while listening to campers belt out an appreciation song dedicated to “counselors,” I realized that maybe thinking this way might be putting a limit on our experiences. There are many others involved in creating the camp experience special for campers, but the people with the biggest influence are counselors.

Camp Counselor and girls

We are always so proud of the staff that we hire to be counselors at Rockbrook. Every year, Sofie works hard to hire a group of women who are confident, strong, and empathetic, as well as fun and silly! These women are the role models and beloved leaders for our campers. They do so much for everyone here, and at the end of the session, campers get to show their gratitude in classic Rockbrook style…with a skit!

The Monday before camp closes (today!), the theme for Evening Program skits is “Counselor Impersonations.” In these very special skits, cabins get to reflect on their favorite memories with their counselors. Campers work together to recreate moments when their counselors made them laugh, comforted them, or any other special memories they share. Because of this, these skits are always incredibly unique and unbelievably touching. I got to watch some of these skits tonight, and from the silly moments that juniors chose to share to the sweet moments that seniors chose, I loved getting to see the relationships that campers and counselors have formed over their time at camp. As the song goes, WE LOVE YOU COUNSELORS!

What’s Familiar Inspires

Zipline Course Kid

Ordinarily after the first week of a camp session there’s a subtle change. Like in a song when the key slides up a half step, there’s a modulation of the feeling, a change that’s both an elaboration and a settling. Life at camp begins to take on more energy and feel more comfortable at the same time, and today I really noticed it. By now the girls have rotated through different activities and visited most every area of the camp. They’ve met almost all of the counselors and activity instructors. They’ve learned the rhythm of our daily schedule, looking forward to the activity time, but also the slots of free time, meals and snack breaks. Most importantly, they grown more comfortable with all of the other campers, getting to know them through the constant shared experience of camp life. Our days now are more content by virtue of mutual familiarity (like a family) with everything and everyone living here together at Rockbrook.

This familiarity, which can also be understood as a strengthening of our community, ironically leads to new experiences too. Hearing stories from friends inspires you give a new camp activity a try. Fly through the air on the zip line! Noticing a shady rock by the creek inspires you to sit and relax there before lunch one day. Learning the camp songs inspires you to sing them even louder in the dining hall. The lake feels more refreshing than cold, “sprickets” (camel crickets) become more like friendly attendants than intruders, the sounds of the forest at night more soothing than unnerving. With a growing feeling of safety and relaxation, the girls also let more of their true selves shine through. Such a relief, that openness feels great. You can just see it on their faces all over camp, laughing and playing so easily, greeting everyone cheerfully, and growing closer to each other as a result.  That’s right; the deepest bonds of friendship are forming now at camp, and it’s very cool to see.

Kayaking Skit

Saturday is a day of regular camp activities, but before lunch we hold an assembly on the hill (under the old walnut tree). It’s a chance for camp bonding, announcements, recognizing the cabins with the inspection scores, and counselor skits. The sports and games instructors demonstrated, hilariously, how to play volleyball when duct taped together. The kayakers paddled frantically away from a tsunami (bucket of water!), and the yoga instructor entertained everyone by simply reciting several yoga-related puns. It was all good silly fun to remind the girls about the activity options available to them. Each age group cheered and sang their line songs, and the whole camp exploded when when we sang “Rockbrook Camp Forever.”

Happy Ice Cream Campers

The first big surprise of the day happened right after lunch, and to everyone’s delight it was “Biltmore Train.” Before it was the tourist destination it is today, the Biltmore Estate ran a commercial dairy selling milk and ice cream locally, and making deliveries of their dairy in a truck decorated with a train motif (The Vanderbilt family was well known in the railroad business). It soon became a tradition for Rockbrook girls to enjoy Biltmore ice cream, with the girls meeting the truck/train as it pulled into camp. The Biltmore dairy has since closed (It has a more tourist friendly winery now.), but we celebrate the memory by holding an an all-you-can-eat ice cream party once per session. Today we lined up 6 giant tubs of ice cream on tables under the hemlock trees, and our brave counselors wore our their arms hand dipping cone after cone for the campers. Once receiving their cone, the girls raced to get back in line (to the end of the “train”) for another. Under the warm sunny afternoon sky, we all enjoyed a high-spirited, sugar-charged treat.

The second surprise was tonight’s evening program, a disco-themed all-girl dance. Naturally, we all had a great time dressing up for the dance— shiny dresses, tie dye t-shirts, rounds glasses, and head bands setting the tone. Marcus, DJ Dog, set up his lights and sound system in the gym to keep everyone dancing, and we served lemonade and cookies while girls played outside blowing bubbles and making sand art necklaces. For a couple of hours it was non-stop disco, group dances to familiar pop songs, and zipping around the gym to the music. All girls, all fun, all good.

Hippy Disco Girls

Redbirds, Jitters, & Camp Camaraderie

By Chrissy Swartz, Waterfront Director

A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver

All night my heart makes its way
however it can over the rough ground
of uncertainties, but only until night
meets and then is overwhelmed by
morning, the light deepening, the
wind easing and just waiting, as I
too wait (and when have I ever been
disappointed?) for redbird to sing.

Was Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver a Rockbrook girl? She certainly could have been, given her delicate writings and musings on nature and its beauty. I was shocked when I came across this poem recently while reading a collection of her poems at camp since the redbird is such a traditional symbol of Rockbrook. Immediately I related A Thousand Mornings to life at RBC—especially to the feelings of excitement and hesitation that the first few days of camp bring.

pottery class at summer camp

Breakfast on this first full day of camp is always full of cautious energy. The campers, counselors, and activity instructors are all raring to go. As soon as breakfast ends the camp leaps into full swing. The girls head off to their activities, and it feels like Second Session has officially begun. Once again camp is filled with the sounds of children playing in different areas of camp, their laughter floating above the lake all the way up the hill.

girls playing with balloons in the lake

Soon the nervous butterflies and hesitations disappear as the girls chat at muffin break about their first activity period. Everyone has a story to share. By Free Swim many of the girls were coming down in groups to take a dip in the lake with their friends. It’s wonderful to see friendships new and old bringing girls together so quickly on the first full day.

We also finally got a rainstorm this afternoon! We haven’t had rain for a few weeks, so the shower was much appreciated. It wasn’t enough to disrupt activities, but it did encourage girls to take advantage of bonding time in the cabin. The rain makes things grow, including cabin camaraderie. It’s wonderful that so much happened today at camp, both outside in activities as well as inside the cabins among the girls. Cabin culture is a huge part of the camp experience, and today was a very formative day in that regard, especially since the rain encouraged a cozy afternoon after the storm.

three silly girls

By dinner the energy was buzzing in the dining hall. After four activity periods, the day seems endless because so much has already been done. The girls were laughing and singing loudly and proudly, finally allowing themselves to settle in a bit more to the crazy camp lifestyle.

Twilight offered a trip down to the camp garden, as well as another chance for the girls to get more comfortable with the charms of camp and their friends on the hill. Finally, the night ended with cabin skits on each line, offering a new way for cabinmates to bond over a shared experience of performing ridiculous skits in fun costumes in front of their peers. Milk and cookies topped off the evening as the girls went off to bed, a new day patiently waiting on the other side of a second night in the mountains. Tomorrow, the redbird will sing again.

girls making camera hand sign

Love from the Lake,

Chrissy

Going Old-School

The Winners!

On Sunday, our campers took part in a longtime Rockbrook tradition: Miss RBC. Judging by its name alone, you might think that Miss RBC is just a regular, run-of-the-mill beauty pageant. You might also wonder, then, why it has any place at a summer camp that doesn’t tend to glorify those things that are glorified in typical beauty pageants.

Not to worry, though—our Miss RBC is a glorification only of the most Rockbrook-y values: silliness, fun, crazy costumes, and teamwork. The “contestants” (one from each cabin) put on their craziest costumes, parade around the gym doing their funniest beauty-pageant walk, and answer questions such as “Would you rather get to school every day riding an elephant, a dragon, or a witch’s broom?” (The answer that was given to this question, incidentally, was “elephant,” though I myself would have chosen the broomstick—the relative discomfort is outweighed by the fact that it can neither step on you, nor set you on fire).

A Cappella
Question-and-Answer

Girls that, at school, might only be praised for their looks or their popularity, are celebrated here for the size of their sombrero, or for the fact that they knew that the only logical response to the question “What is something that should never be vacuumed,” was, “The fur of a medium-sized squirrel.”

Why was that the answer? Who knows. But the response was hilarious, and the whole gym applauded hard and loud for that contestant.

Still, the contestants’ question-and-answer portion is only one part of the Miss RBC process. The part that the campers (and staff) look forward to the most is definitely the talent portion. In the talent portion, entire cabins take the stage to perform something together—sometimes it is a dance, or an original song, or a skit, or anything else that they can think of. In recent years, the campers have tended to focus on elaborate dances, set to their favorite songs, which we play over the loudspeaker.

The Cup Song
CA's Talent

This session, however, we decided to throw a twist into these usual proceedings: no pre-recorded music. That’s right, we went old-school. We were a bit nervous, when we made this announcement, that it might throw the girls off and make for a less exciting talent show; as usual, however, we shouldn’t have doubted that our campers would rise to the occasion.

What unfolded Sunday afternoon, was absolutely the best Miss RBC I’ve ever seen. Cabins wrote and performed songs, sang in a cappella, performed beautiful dances while one cabinmate sang a pop song into the microphone, and one cabin even brought out pots and pans from the kitchen and performed a percussion piece. The talents were imaginative and daring, and all were incredibly impressive. We were so proud to see our campers rise to this new challenge and put on such a great show!

Building Leaders

Teaching the Basics

At Rockbrook, our primary focus is always to give childen the time of their lives in a fun, crazy, safe, and exciting environment. Our objective is to give girls the chance to let loose and get a little crazy, and create memories that will last them well into adulthood.

Full Costume
Steady…..

We do have another objective, though—one that is woven into much of our programming, often in subtle ways, but at times more explicitly. We know that the girls playing in our camp today will not be children forever. There will come a time when these girls will be populating boardrooms, operating rooms, courtrooms, art studios, sports arenas, Houses of Congress, and maybe even the White House. Much of what we do here is geared toward helping them to become the strong, positive leaders that they will need to be in the years to come.

Though, officially, our leadership program does not begin until the summer after ninth grade, we encourage all of our campers to be independent thinkers from the moment they step onto camp on their very first day. One of the most important ways that we foster this independence is by allowing our campers to choose their own activities every three days. No counselors, no directors, and no parents can tell them which activities to choose—only the campers, be they seven or fifteen, can make that decision. We urge them to choose activities based not on what their friends are choosing, but rather on what they are interested in, what they are excited about, and what activities might challenge them. Through this process, campers can learn the immense satisfaction that comes from crafting an experience that is wholly and completely their own.

Never Too Small
Working Hard

What’s more, our campers put together and perform skits nearly every night with their cabins. Returning campers look forward to these skits every summer—they are fun, goofy, and often hilarious ways to top off the day. Planning the skits, though, is not without its challenges. Skit-planning requires girls to think creatively, to determine how every girl in the cabin can contribute to the performance, to pool their resources (usually costumes) and use them in a way that benefits everyone, and to make sure that everyone is on board and happy with the process.

On top of all of that, the girls aren’t planning the skits under the direction of a counselor. The counselors wait in the lodge, and leave the planning, from beginning to end, to the girls. Throughout the session, the campers get plenty of practice in learning to solve disagreements in mature ways that benefit the cabin as a whole, without the interference of an adult. To help this process along, particularly for the younger girls, campers might be assigned days to be the “skit director.” On this night, they are the leader of the skit-planning, and it is up to them to make the tough decisions and make sure that every girl’s voice is being heard.

Yes, it can sometimes be messy—as learning new skills frequently is—but our campers often leave here at the end of the session with a better understanding of how to be a great leader of a team, and, sometimes more importantly, how to be a productive member of a team.

When campers reach 9th and 10th grade, they begin to take on more responsibilities around camp. They shoulder the responsibility of planning an elaborate Banquet as CA’s, then take on the myriad duties of a Hi-Up, many of which are vital to the smooth running of camp. Some girls are always nervous to take on this leadership role at camp. What they might not realize, is that they have been preparing to be leaders, at camp and elsewhere, since the moment their parents dropped them off on their very first day.

HUP Pals

Beginning the Bustle

Girls excited for camp

“I am so ready to bust out of this car!” That’s the way one girl put it when she arrived at camp this morning. “She’s been talking about Rockbrook non-stop for the last week,” one parent explained. And, “She woke up at 4am this morning,” said another. It’s true; some strikingly pent up excitement arrived (and was released!) at camp today as 155 campers opened our third session. Every session has excited campers arriving, but this seemed extraordinary. Perhaps, it’s because these girls have been waiting most of the summer for this moment, or they’ve been following along on the web site, or they simply know how much fun they’re about to have. Whatever the reason, these third session girls are pumped! All morning as everyone arrived, we heard squeals of camp friends reuniting, enthusiastic cheers from counselors greeting their campers, and maybe a few grunts as heavy trunks were hauled up the hill and down the lines to the cabins. The whole morning was a hustle and bustle with campers and their families moving in, girls playing group games in the Hillside Lodge, groups taking hikes to Rockbrook Falls, and new cabin mates making friendship bracelets together on the hill.  All this excitement and all this action made the morning really fun and festive.

Rick and his fantastic kitchen crew settled us down a bit with a yummy lunch of his homemade macaroni and cheese, steamed green beans, and fresh fruit salad… comfort food for the first meal. At the beginning of the meal, Sarah took a minute to explain where to find the vegetarian, gluten- and dairy-free options, the peanut butter and jelly station, cartons of milk to drink, and the two salad bars. During the meal, it took about 5 minutes for a song to break out, the first of many that will erupt at every meal in the dining hall. With all the camp songs being sung around here, it’s no surprise that girls will find themselves singing them at other times throughout the year.  They’ll be eating lunch at school and suddenly have an urge to yell out “Rockbrook request! The Coconut Song!”

Girl swimming at summer camp

With bright sun shining overhead, we broke into age groups for the afternoon rotating between camp tours of the different activity areas, cabin and line meetings, and swimming demonstrations. We ask everyone at camp who wants to swim (or go whitewater rafting, canoeing or kayaking) to demonstrate their ability in our lake.  It is a mountain-stream-fed lake which, very different from a warm, clear swimming pool, is quite cold and often a little intimidating for young girls used to shallow water. Consequently, it can be a shock to jump in, swim out 50 feet, back another 50 feet using a back stroke, and tread water for 1 full minute, as our demonstration/test requires. For even experienced swimmers, it takes a solid effort to overcome the cold without a struggle. Still, you would be proud of your girls for they all did very well, with only 3 needing to retake the test later. If someone struggles to complete the full swimming demonstration, we still encourage her to come and enjoy the lake, but we require that she wear a life vest and stay in the shallow area. To keep everyone safe at the waterfront, our American Camp Association accreditation requires these kinds of proven protocols.

Camp Counselor Skit with costumes

Later in the afternoon, the whole camp assembled in the gym to learn more about the different activities offered this session by enjoying a program of skits performed by the activity instructors. This is a chance for the campers to meet the different instructors and hear more about what goes on at strange sounding activities like the “Alpine Tower, “Curosty,” “WHOA,” for example (Climbing, Fiber Arts, and Adventure/hiking). For the counselors, it’s a chance to dress up, maybe sing and dance a little, and show everyone what fun it is just to be at camp. In addition to these skits, we sang activity songs, line (age group) songs, and did a whole lot of cheering to make this a fun hour.

We’re just getting started. The bustle is just beginning, but I can already tell we’ve got excellent counselors and super excited campers ready to make this a great session. Stay tuned!

Such a Beautiful Sight

We begin our Sundays at Rockbrook differently than other days of the week by, at least for the morning, slowing down our ordinary zany pace. First of all, we sleep in a little, enjoying extra rest, and then shuffle to breakfast before doing cabin chores and even before getting dressed… Pjs with a fleece pulled over, and robes being typical. Just rolling out of bed feels good once in a while! For breakfast we have a special “real world” treat waiting— freshly delivered Krispy Kreme doughnuts to supplement our regular cereal, fruit and yogurt bar, and today toasted English Muffins and warm scrambled eggs.

Sunday Morning Camp
Camp Chapel Presentation
Chapel Girl sitting
Girls camp outdoor assembly

After breakfast, the campers return to their cabins to change into their camp uniforms (white polo shirt, white shorts, and a red tie) and around 10am assemble on the camp hill for a flag raising ceremony conducted by the Hi-Up campers. Like Rockbrook girls have for decades, everyone forms a line around the flag pole, recites the Pledge of Allegiance, and sings “America the Beautiful.” Today under sunny, deep blue skies, surrounded by the full green of the woods around us, and with the breath-taking view of the mountains in the distance, all these girls in their red and white made such a beautiful sight.

Following this brief ceremony, the girls walk along the “path of silence” to the Chapel area of camp, which is a small clearing in the woods with benches arranged like a theater. Today the Senior campers and counselors presented their program on the theme of “Community.” Instead of a religious ceremony, these gatherings are for us a brief time during our week to pause and appreciate one another, and to contemplate the fundamental values and feelings we all share, no matter what our religious upbringing at home. We want all girls, irrespective of their religious beliefs, to feel comfortable and included at Rockbrook, so we strive to make our Chapel programs reflect that priority. Today Samantha played the guitar as her cabin mates sang a song they wrote. Several other girls spoke about how Rockbrook feels like a family to them, with each person bringing different gifts to the group. Everyone sang “Lean on Me” (the classic song by Bill Withers), and Sarah spoke at the end after reading the children’s book Anansi the Spider. Based on a West African trickster tale, it tells the story of how the moon came to hang in the sky for all to enjoy. These are sweet moments where your girls prove how sensitive and caring they really are.

Before heading into lunch, everyone gathered again for a more lively assembly on the hill. Here the Line Heads awarded the “Mops” (highly decorated mops… this session as 3 different “minions” from the movie Despicable Me) to the cabins with the best record of cabin inspections. The Hi-Ups performed a skit/song about their duties in the dining hall.  Three counselors competed in an exciting “minute to win it” style challenge of apple stacking to see which cabin would be “dressed” the next day by their counselor. With a few announcements from the directors, and a few rousing hand-clapping versions of the Line songs, everyone was pumped up.

Our afternoon activity put a twist on a favorite classic, the “Counselor Hunt.” Today we found ourselves on an alien planet where all kinds of crazy, friendly though shy, aliens (our counselors dressed up) were hiding. Each cabin took on the mission to scour the planet (all over the main part of camp) to find aliens and return them to our spaceship (the dining hall). There, we would discover that each alien had a mysterious gift or prize to convey to the cabin who found her… Special snacks, having rest hour by the lake, or picking out the night’s movie, for example. Be sure to check out the photo gallery to see all the colorful aliens the girls discovered.

Alien costume counselor
Game of counselors dressed as aliens