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  • Writer's picture The Vindicator

From Campfires to Campus: Immersive Experiences for Success

The importance of early childhood experiences and continued support for low-income students and families in higher education.


Written by Faith-Ann G. English





Growing up in a rural, working-class family, I did not have the chance to participate in after-school activities or go to summer camp. The extracurriculars I did participate in, however, were academic-related — such as Student Council, Math Bowl and National Honor Society. I grew up as a poor, overachieving know-it-all who wanted to succeed like everyone else. 


"Much like summer camp, college campuses should be focused on creating a diverse learning environment where people from different backgrounds interact without feeling like outcasts."

As a child, I wished I had the opportunity to go to summer camp and participate in other activities, but realistically, it was not financially possible. Having graduated high school and started my journey in higher education, the price of basketball shorts and new sneakers doesn’t even compare to the cost of tuition and textbooks. Everything is getting more and more expensive, and sending your child to summer camp has become unimaginable. Some summer camps charge parents thousands for just a week. That is $1,000 for kids to spend time outside and in nature with their friends, and summer camps expect parents to pay that in full before sending their child. Not every family is going to have the resources to supply these vital life experiences to their kids. 


However, Hiram House Camp (HHC), a local summer camp located in Moreland Hills, Ohio, has made it possible for kids from all different backgrounds and socioeconomic standings to share the same experiences and form lifelong friendships. I had the honor of working at HHC last summer before my first semester at Cleveland State. I plan on going back again this summer because of the incredible impact Hiram House has on local kids and families. Additionally, I was able to meet with Konner Lashley, the camp’s program director, to talk more about HHC and how they are making a difference. 


Hiram House Camp opened in 1896 as a fresh air camp and settlement house, intended to help immigrants adapt to life in the US. They were first located in Downtown Cleveland, but in 1903, the camp moved to a 172-acre property in Moreland Hills. When asked what makes HHC different from the average summer camp, Konner explained, “What sets us apart is our campership funds and the different people that can experience camp. We’re able to bring in a variety of different backgrounds from campers that come to us from inner-city Cleveland and Akron. We’re able to offer those campership opportunities to those families that might not otherwise get it.”


The campership fund is a scholarship offered to every family who applies for the overnight camp at HHC. This means that every family has the same opportunity to participate in the camp experience no matter what their economic standing is. Likewise, Konner stated, “The goal of Hiram House Camp is to work towards social understanding and to be able to provide youth from urban backgrounds opportunities in the outdoors.” He further explained that kids are able to experience the same activities at camp regardless of whether or not they receive a campership. They work and play together in a diverse environment which is essential for early socialization, teaching kids how to interact with others. 


For my final question, I asked, “What do you think we can do to ensure that all children have the same opportunities to succeed?” What Konner said rang true. He explained the importance of making sure families know the opportunities that are available to them, as well as how to find them. Having resources readily available is one thing, but making sure families are aware of them and how to utilize their chances often lag behind. This carries over into young adulthood when aspiring students leave the campfire for campus.  


As a first-generation college student, I face more barriers than my peers from families with college educated parents and grandparents. While my family instilled in me the importance of obtaining an education and not following in their footsteps, I still lack the necessary support I need to succeed. Similarly, I have a hard time figuring out how I am going to pay my tuition, how to balance school and a social life, how to take seven classes and work long hours and, in general, how to decide if college is worth it or not. 


At any given university, almost fifty percent of students are first-generation. This makes it crucial to provide support and resources for the students who may not otherwise have the same chance for success. As a sociology major at CSU, I have taken the time to learn about educational inequalities and something called militant apathy, or the tendency for students to be disengaged and disinterested in their education because of anxiety, burnout and other underlying factors. To learn more, I met with one of my professors, Dr. Michael Skladany, to discuss what resources are necessary for college students who are under-resourced and disengaged. 


Dr. Skladany comes from a working-class background and, like myself, was a first-generation college student. After discussing his challenges in higher education, he shared something that resonates with a lot of students:

These kinds of institutions are set up to promote and instill middle-class values, as opposed to working-class values… We have people coming from underprivileged, or under-resourced, backgrounds going into a middle-class place like Cleveland State. Especially if they're first-generation, they have a hell of a difficult time adjusting. I am still adjusting, Faith.


For working-class and first-generation students, acclimating to college life requires more effort, so it’s extremely important that we provide resources that will actually be helpful when fighting against militant apathy. Dr. Skladany proposes a more immersive learning experience with a foundation of human interactions and contact. He believes that students are desperately seeking meaning and contact with others, so to support students the way they need, universities should be making an effort to implement face-to-face, active involvement with students. 


Much like summer camp, college campuses should be focused on creating a diverse learning environment where people from different backgrounds interact without feeling like outcasts. Providing a campership fund allows all children to participate in the same activities, but when it comes to college life, opportunities and resources are unequally distributed. In order to ensure that all students have equal chances of success, engaged learning needs to be available in the form of active participation, hands-on experiences, tutoring in subjects other than STEM, open and honest communication, and explicit descriptions of the resources we have available on campus. We must bring back engaged learning!

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