This is a slightly unusual blog. I want to tell you about a very exciting project we are continuing at Camp Champions.  I also want to ask for your help. 

Almost 3 years ago, Paul Tough published a book called “How Children Succeed”. In it, he details the massive array of research that shows that success in college has more to do with “non cognitive skills” like grit and self-control than IQ or academic success in high school. 

In the book, he especially focused on the KIPP schools. KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) is a public charter school program that focuses on inner city, under-served youth. Typically, the parents of KIPP students never attended college and many never graduated high school. Despite this less-than-ideal background, over 95% of the KIPP students will be accepted to college! 

This is truly remarkable.  But there is a discouraging additional fact: fewer than one-third would graduate.  Research suggests that this low graduation rate is a function of certain “non-cognitive” skills like grit, self control and optimism. 

Since the publishing of this book and the research it details, educators and youth development experts have been thinking about ways to increase these critical non-cognitive skills, especially for underserved children.  If we want more college graduates, then we need to learn how to “teach” these skills. 

When I did my TEDx talk during October of 2012, I met the founder of KIPP San Antonio, a dynamic man named Mark Larson. During our talk, we found ourselves swapping stories about children, schools and camp (he had been a counselor at camp in the Midwest).  We realized that we both had seen these non cognitive skills developed at our camps. 

This thought led to an idea – what if KIPP students could get a camp experience that was especially designed to focus on fostering particular skills like optimism, grit, self control? We talked about camp as well as The Outdoor School, our outdoor and experiential program that we run in the fall and spring. At The Outdoor School, we had conducted studies of our 3-day, 2-night program on underserved populations and had found meaningful attitudinal affects on the students. 

I also learned that a camp-based program in the New York City area was getting amazing results.  With students attending camp for 3 weeks each summer, they had 78% of their student enter college with roughly 95% (!!!) of these graduating. This program, run by a close friend of mine, so I was able to talk with her long enough to see what we might be able to do with shorter sessions. 

So all these ideas culminated in a simple one: we would bring KIPP students to Camp Champions at the end of the summer for a one week camp experience. We would also have control groups of their to compare results with. 

We approached Paul Tough (the author of the book that started all these conversations) and he was clearly intrigued. We asked him to recommend the best researcher possible for this study. 

“That is an interesting coincidence. The perfect person just moved from Stanford to the University of Texas.  His name is Dr. David Yeager.  He has worked closely with Carol Dweck (the woman who wrote “Mindsets”, a deeply influential book on how language and mindset deeply impact children – her work is a big part of our orientation). Dr Yeager is very talented, but do not get your hopes up.” 

We met with Dr Yeager and quickly learned two things. First, he is a brilliant and passionate researcher.  Second, he had been a summer camper.  In fact, he shared that his life dream from age 13-15 was to “continue to go to camp until I can be a counselor, be a counselor until I get a full time job there and then buy the camp”. 

We had our researcher.  Here are a few other cool points on Dr Yeager: 

  • He presented a paper to the White House and the Deputy Secretary of Education last year.  He reported that the Deputy Secretary in interested in the results of our KIPP/Camp Champions study. 
  • Last year, he went to New York to help Marvel Comics write an issue of Iron Man designed to curtail childhood obesity. The White House AND Iron Man? That is pretty cool.
  • He just got named to Stanford’s Center for Advanced Studies as a Fellow. 

Last summer we began the study with 68 students. We also had a “control group” of similar students that did a summer school week instead.  We are in the process of gathering results on several metrics, including self-assessments, teacher assessments, grades and attendance. Of course, the holy grail would be to show increased college graduation, that we will need to wait too many years for that, so we want to measure intermediate outcomes. 

Last year went very well (though the results are just now coming in), so we will do our second summer this year. 

The developmental psychology community is really intrigued by our project for several reasons.  First, they understand that we will need to try different approaches to make lasting impacts on these children.  In other words, their current environment is not setting them up for success, so we need to find alternatives.  Second, there has been a lot of research on getting “transfer” of skills from one environment (like camp) to another one (like school). If we understand how to facilitate “transfer”, then we can create creative experiences that will impact academic performance.  Finally, there are a lot of people who are excited about Dr Yeager’s success rate with his previous interventions.  I describe one of them in my Psychology Today blog (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/smores-and-more/201305/demanding-excellence-and-getting-it). In other words, the researchers are excited because he is excited. 

If this experiment succeeds, it would be a meaningful positive for underserved children.  If a week of camp every few years can impact college graduation rates, then we will have a stronger nation for a reasonable cost.  And, for those of us who love and believe in summer camp as a powerful learning experience, this would help the non-camp world see what we (including you wonderful parents) see – camp as a source of growth. 

We have over a dozen volunteers coming to help work the week.  We are getting some food donated.  Susie Ma’am, the entire Leadership Team and I are donating our efforts. 

Here is where we would love any help you can provide. We are estimating that the program will cost around $36,000-$40,000 for the week, even with the volunteered labor and contributed food.  Last year, KIPP contributed $25,000.  This year, their budget could only cover $10,000. 

To be clear, any contribution you make would go directly to KIPP San Antonio and not to Camp Champions.  We will happily cover the $20-25k deficit because we believe in the program.  If, however, you have any interest in helping with this project (or if you simply have some questions about it), please send me an email to . I also know that everyone of you already has charities and causes that are important to you, so I do not expect you to help.  Last summer, Camp Champions parents contributed $8000 to the project and both Susie and I were amazed at the generosity of our families.  We deeply appreciate any assistance with this ground-breaking project; one that we hope will spawn a new area of youth development for children who need as many advantages as we can give them! 

Steve Sir 

PS Here is how to contribute if you are so inclined.  If you want to send a check, you can make it out to KIPP San Antonio.  Please mail it to my attention at 775 Camp Road; Marble Falls, TX 78654.  Please put Camp Champions in the memo line so that they will know the funds are dedicated to this project. 

If you would prefer to use a credit card or PayPal, you can go to  http://www.kippsa.org/support/ and pay using their site.  If this is your option, please send me an email when you make the contribution so that I can let them know that your contribution was for this project.