IH San Sebastian: New Leadership, Better Practices
Lacunza Summer Camp enters its second decade with new leadership
IH Lacunza has been going strong for over 60 years. We have a long-standing dedication to quality (we're one of the founding members of Eaquals: Evaluation and Accreditation of Quality Language Services) and a commitment to excellence (we've issued more than 25,000 Cambridge certificates since 1981).
So when we do something, we want to do it right.
But change can often be hard in an organisation as established as ours. Even our summer camp, which has been running for just over ten years, has had the same leader since it launched.
That is, until now. For the first time since the camp’s creation, leadership has changed. Mar Izquierdo has taken the helm and her energy and creativity has been hugely noticeable throughout the camp. She has grasped all aspects of the camp incredibly fast and we have taken this opportunity to, as a team, review the camp’s activity and make improvements straight away.
Today we are here to share our improvement process with you to help you give innovation a thought.
Improvements and planification: where to start?
Simple as it may sound, this is generally the hardest part. When an activity has been running for over 10 years, most processes are set, so where to start and how to approach the task can be the biggest challenge.
In our case, to help us see things more clearly, we started by taking a step back and reviewing our strengths - not just as a camp, but as a whole. After all, Lacunza Summer Camp is an activity run within a school with over 60 years’ experience in education, so why not make the most of our overall strengths?
Realisation #1: Staffing
This resulted in our first realisation being obvious: our school's best asset is our team, so we need to bring more of the team to camp.
Up until now, there had been a team working at camp and another team working at school with little or no interaction between both groups. Although this worked well, it meant that we did things slightly different in both places - especially in class. We realised that mixing both teams would be beneficial for everyone: it would bring more of our teaching methodology to camp and would help our permanent teachers practice their flexibility and adaptability by learning how to work with different students every week.
We realised that mixing both teams would be beneficial for everyone.
We put our plan into action and encouraged school staff to participate in camp. A lot of teachers showed interest and in the end, we were delighted that 36% of the camp's staff now came from our school staff (four permanent teachers and seven summer teachers).
Realisation #2: Structure
Step two was pretty much a follow-up on step one. If we bring the school's methodology to camp, then we must also add some structure to it, which is why we decided to add the Director of Studies (DoS) role to the team at camp.
The new DoS would focus solely on the camp, thus emphasising the preparation and coordination of all educational aspects. So as to keep in line with realisation number one, we decided to fill this role by empowering one of our current school teachers. Anna Pedzinska took charge of creating all of the materials from scratch and carried out online testing before the students arrived to camp. Knowing the students' levels before they arrived in camp meant that we had all the information with plenty of time to find enough resources and create as many groups and levels as the campers required.
We ended up with groups at all six grades over the whole range of language levels (A1 to C1) and were very mindful of groups having to be homogeneous in both level and age. This meant that we had to split classes almost every week, as lots of students with the same level were far apart in age, but (with Anna having done her homework before the beginning of the camp) this was not a problem as we had enough teachers and groups to make any necessary changes.
All of our hard work in adding resources to camp also helped us keep enrolment open throughout the summer as free slots were always available, so it was easier for us to accept enrolment based solely on the level of the camper. A good match between students’ levels and our academic offer with only one person needing a group change per week was good proof of success, especially taking into account that the mover was almost always a child suffering from jet lag!
We felt that this system, as opposed to camps in which students are distributed by age, is key to the student's experience and to the camp’s success.
And outside the classroom?
Although we take great pride in our academic structures, we are aware that parent expectations when signing up to a summer camp are not the same as those of parents who sign their children up to an academic year. Moreover, our students – aged 6 to 15 – want to spend most of their time playing and having fun. This is why Anna developed materials adapted to this unique situation, focusing on vocabulary and losing fear to speak.
On top of making sure our classes were filled with fun and engaging activities, we created a daily Project Based Learning Hour in which campers would develop a project to be presented at the end of the week. We felt that we should let creativity run loose, so each week students would choose what to do. Since our camp has a big theatre it was quite easy. There was only one rule: the project needed to be something artistic. Sometimes it was a song, sometimes it was part of a play...
We felt that we should let creativity run loose, so each week students would choose what to do.
One of the weeks, a teenage group asked to write their own play and the result was amazing! They wanted to present something that would address current issues. They took inspiration in Romeo & Juliet and The Little Mermaid and wrote a play which was a mix of these two classics with a twist: two young mermaids who were lesbian lovers were being forced by their families to marry wealthy suitors, the families never understanding that they were gay. The play was very well received by everyone and its results were beyond our expectations.
What about the rest of the time?
Our camp is much more than its academic part. Classes and Project Based Learning take up the morning, which gives us the whole afternoon to organise all sorts of activities for those who choose to stay in camp for the full day and overnight. We make a special effort to mix international and local kids and organise activities that we know they would likely otherwise not try.
One of the activities that stands out every year is our collaboration with a well reputed nationwide NGO to raise children’s conscience on recycling. We also offer premium activities in the afternoon such as:
- Surf where, other than surfing, we teach children about the sea, how we should take care of it and learn from it at the same time; and
- Masterchef where children learn about our local produce and learn how to cook healthy food.
The combination of nationalities and original activities helps students find fluidity in a foreign language and this, together with the mix of cultures, is something that will enrich children for the rest of their lives.
This year, for the first time, we had the honour of welcoming 15 foster children who were given the opportunity to attend camp through a sponsor from the Red Cross Association. They came from families at risk of exclusion, and children at camp were truly inclusive which meant we could see no difference between campers. It was a real melting pot and it was obvious that the foster children had an absolute blast.
Sadly, though, we also experienced other realities of life. We learned that bullying is still an issue and that we need to focus more of our time in preventing it. This year our monitors created activities to prevent it and we have planned an induction for next year for both teachers and monitors so that they have all the tools to eradicate any case they identify. As this is an issue worth digging deeper into, we are preparing another FruitFame story with what we have learnt this summer that will hopefully help others address this issue (subscribe to the site so you get an alert when this story is published).
Lacunza Summer Camp 2018 ended on August 4th and on the following Monday we’d already started planning for 2019. We are proud of how far we have come and want to keep moving forward, which is why we are continuously working on improvements. We believe that innovation is never-ending.
This year we’ve had children from many nationalities (Russian, Italian, French, American, English, Spanish, Peruvian, Korean…) and would like to keep welcoming people from all over the world. It is incredibly enriching to see children sharing their traditions and culture, which is what makes all of our hard work worthwhile. If you don’t have a summer camp yet, we encourage you to give it a go!
And of course feel free to get in touch via my Author Profile with any questions or suggestions that you may have.