Your teen is too young to get a summer job at a local retail store, yet she considers herself too mature to spend the summer frolicking in the pool, playing games, and making crafts. With a roll of the eyes, she has declared, quite to your dismay, that she’s too old to attend camp this summer.
You, on the other hand, have a different idea. Summer camp still seems very much a worthwhile venture considering the alternative – just hanging out all day.
There is a solution to this dilemma. Young teens can participate in a CIT program – Counselor in Training. For many kids, it’s a chance to extend the summer camp experience a few more years.
CIT programs are for young teens who are serious about assuming some of the responsibility and effort it takes to work with young children in a camp setting. There are usually a limited number of openings, and some camps only consider teens who have been “campers” in previous years. You will need to inquire about this as you begin your camp search.
The application process varies from camp to camp, as well. It can be as simple as filling out a form to going on an interview and submitting references.
What CIT Programs Are All About
Counselor in Training programs are intended to train teens to become future counselors, leaders, and mentors. There
are a variety of responsibilities given to these trainees, and the scope of their duties can vary enormously from camp to
camp. Some of their assigned tasks might include organizing and planning activities, leading teams in various projects,
helping out with camp maintenance, assisting counselors with office work, and assisting at various athletic activities.
At most camps, CITs are usually still considered “campers,” but they assume more responsibilities and are given
leadership roles at the camp. Most teens in CIT programs are still considered minors, and, therefore, they are not paid. Counselors in Training usually pay a “camper’s” fee, but this fee is often reduced. The teens are expected to split their time between being a camper and spending time working as a CIT. Counselors in Training at day camps are usually 14 to 16 years old. Resident camps (overnight camps) usually expect applicants to be 16 or 17, because teens cannot become a senior counselor at an overnight camp until they reach 18. In some of these instances, the Counselors in Training are paid a stipend or given tips.
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Benefits for Teens
Teens who participate in CIT programs reap many benefits. They gain confidence in themselves and their special abilities
and talents. Most camp directors expect that Counselors in Training will learn leadership skills, develop responsibility
and competency, acquire a strong work ethic, gain decision-making skills, and learn to be part of a team working
towards a common goal. Teens also learn the value of being a positive role model and mentor for younger kids. These
programs serve as a release from the academic pressures teens are faced with during the school year, yet they still provide an excellent learning experience.
The completion of a CIT program also looks great on college applications. Participation in these programs shows
a willingness to work hard and take on the responsibility necessary to work with young children. In addition, Program
Directors often provide great references because they can write about a trainee’s strengths and accomplishments in detail.
Nancy Bowen, camp director for the American Heritage Summer Camp in Plantation, says this is a great opportunity
for youngsters. Those who receive excellent evaluations may secure a paid job for the following summer. “Although our
junior counselors are normally 16 years old, a 14-year-old who does a great job in our C.I. T. program is more valuable than an older child who has not been involved in a camp program,” Bowen says.
The Application Process
The application process varies from camp to camp. Some camps require interviews and references. Others only accept applications from teens who have been “campers” in previous years. Therefore, it is important to call the camp you have in mind prior to applying.
Camps are looking for teens who are excited about becoming mentors to younger kids. So it is imperative that your teen
lists any experiences she has had in this area. Baby-sitting, tutoring younger students, and community service positions
(such as reading to youngsters at a local library) look great on an application.
Teens should list skills or sports they are good at on their application, as well. For instance, if a teen has lots of experience with tennis, a camp director might foresee using her as an assistant coach in his tennis program.
Finding the Right Fit
Your teen will have a better experience if the camp she chooses fits her abilities, skills, and interests. You should ask your
friends and neighbors about camps that their children attended, particularly if they participated in a CIT program. It is
always good to hear from someone who has experienced the program first-hand.
If possible, visit the camp in person before sending in an application. Every camp is not right for every child.