Life By Leadership | ASK A Camp Director: Andy Wexler from Pali Institute

ASK A Camp Director: Andy Wexler from Pali Institute

We recently got a chance to put Andy Wexler, the Director of Pali Institute in the hot seat and we asked all the questions you want to know.

What makes Pali Institute different from other outdoor science camps?

From almost the moment buses with students arrive on-site our staff take over for the teachers. They are in a cabin, teach classes and activities and help with supervision at mealtimes. The teachers often have the option to take more of a backseat while here, observing and sometimes participating in activities with the kids, or on their own depending on their preference. We have trained medical staff on-site always when children are present, this includes California licensed nurses. At most other OE camps teachers oversee students overnight, in transitions, as well as being responsible for dispensing medications. Our nurses at our on-site Wellness Center are ready and capable of responding to anything from a stomachache to minor injuries, emergent situations, and anything in-between.

How was your experience hosting OSS (Outdoor Science School) in California last year?

We saw the need firsthand for kids to have the opportunity to get outside and have the chance to be kids. They spent the year prior at home often physically distanced. The social and emotional maturity of the kids was noticeably delayed. Kids need trips like this to grow, bond and help increase independence. Last year we saw more homesickness that seemed to stem from small conflicts between students who missed out on a year of socializing normally with their peers. We had to be flexible and meet the schools where they were at with understanding and compassion. If a school requested to have parents in the cabin or to eat outdoors, we accommodated those requests. We wanted to make it work in order to get kids back to camp!

What does Outdoor Education mean to you and Pali Institute?

How would you best describe Pali Institute’s mission and philosophy?

Our Mission is to introduce experiential education to young people by providing progressive learning experiences that extend far beyond classroom walls. Through our innovative curriculum and professional staff, students will experience the thrill of touching, seeing and learning about the world around them. At Pali Institute, we bring textbooks to life. I like to tell people that we trick kids into learning. We Play games and do experiments and at the end of the activity, surprise! They’ve learned something!

Each student that attends Pali Institute Should leave with:

• An increased understanding of relevant science concepts
• An increased awareness of personal growth
• An increased awareness of group dynamics
• Preparedness and confidence in our program

Why do you believe children thrive at Pali Institute?

It’s a very different way of learning here, compared to what they are typically accustomed to. They thrive because it’s a change, a mix-up from the normal classroom, they are consistently active, getting their jitters out, the kids run around and experience new things whether that is simply a night away from their parents, dissecting a squid, or going on a nature hike, everyone has the opportunity to try something new!

Who supervises the counselors?

We have a team of 17 leadership staff, all supervise the instructors. The instructors can go to whoever makes the most sense depending on their needs. Our leadership team is given additional training beyond that of a general instructor.

In addition to the leadership training, they all receive, we provide training designed to enhance and support their skills and knowledge within their more specified leadership roles. Instructors are given information and direction on who is best suited to assist them depending on what their needs may be at any point throughout the season.

Program coordinators primarily assist with logistical questions, Student and Staff Coordinators are more heavily utilized for some of the situations pertaining to conduct or behavior. Leadership reports to and consults all the following individuals, the Staff Supervisor, the Assistant Director, and Director. Instructors may seek assistance from any member of leadership or administration at any time. Our program also has an advisory board made up of leadership members who meet with all instructors once a week all season.

Since your overnight outdoor is coed, are the girl’s cabins separate from the boys for privacy?

Each week we do a cabin assignment for our arriving schools. The schools are responsible for putting the students into groups in advance of their arrival since they know the students best.

The groups are split up by gender. We have had schools specifically request non-gendered cabins. We will make those accommodations when requested. There is always instructor supervision with the students in the cabin, to help avoid any comingling of cabins. We always work to make reasonable accommodations for the schools when requested.

If a school is worried about boy and girl interactions during the course of the day and evening, during classes and activities, we can separate them, otherwise, we typically do not. We almost always keep school groups together throughout the day as well.

Do you have a policy around how counselors address hot-button topics?

We do not have a policy specifically about each and every possible hot button topic but for most that frequently come up, yes, we do. For many topics kids bring up we try to redirect the conversation to something else in a compassionate and sensitive way as often as possible. We do not want any child to feel ignored or wrong for wanting to discuss life issues of course. While being mindful of this we also want to be careful not to overstep and follow the policy and training.

We have these policies in place to help our instructors know what they should not lead discussions about and how to kindly but appropriately handle addressing these issues when kids bring them up.

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