Junior Session Sunset

(Scroll down for FAQ)

Our Board of Trustees, in consultation with the Year-Round leadership team at camp, has made the decision that 2023 will be the last summer we offer our one-week Junior Session for the foreseeable future.

Our decision comes after confronting the reality that summer schedules have been changing dramatically for our campers and staff for quite some time. The primary challenge is the shrinking period of time in which our campers and staff are all off from school. The different regions where our campers live continue to adjust school schedules, reducing the overlap in which all children are off. Additionally, the colleges that the vast majority of our summer staff attend require students to return much earlier than in the past, making staffing Junior Session to our high standards increasingly difficult.

We have held out against this dynamic for much longer than other camps in the region and in our programmatic peer group. Most are wrapping up their programming in the third week of August or even earlier. We are at the point where we need to acknowledge the reality of the shortening summer and adjust our program calendar.

We have concluded that the best way to serve our mission at this time is to focus on the core of our mission, the four-week sessions. We don’t take the decision to stop offering Junior Session lightly, but the four-week camp experience is the heart of the Four Winds magic. It’s what we do best. Faced with the simple math of fewer days where our staff and campers are available, it makes sense to focus on our core program.

We recognize that this decision will impact families with Junior Session-aged children much more significantly than families of older children, and we are sorry for the unbalanced burden of that outcome. We hope that you will find some comfort in knowing that all those future campers still have the four-week session ahead of them, but we acknowledge that altering a dearly held vision of a camper’s future experience is jarring. Click here for a video message from Executive Director Paul Sheridan to families with Junior Session-aged children.

We expect that many of you will have questions about this decision, so we’ve created an FAQ that we hope will answer your concerns. If your question is not answered there, please email it to us, and we’ll update the FAQ regularly (generally once a week).

Although Four Winds’ longstanding traditions are held dear in the hearts of campers and their families, camp does evolve, and our history has seen many changes to session dates. For example, camp has moved from a six-week and three-week session in the early decades to two four-week sessions, adding Junior Session a few decades ago, and now going back to the two four-week sessions. The reason that it feels so stable, despite the changes over the years, is that we attempt to change thoughtfully, adjusting to a dynamic world in a way that is consistent with the Four Winds spirit, our values, and our mission. Thank you for all your support and trust.

FAQ

Junior Session fills easily and has a long waitlist. Why does it matter that some schools start earlier in August if Junior Session fills?

It’s true that despite the school calendar challenges, there is more than enough demand to fill our camper spaces in Junior Session. From a pure numbers perspective, the staffing challenges are the primary driver of this decision.

There is another challenge with Junior Session, which relates to our waitlist. Prior to 2015, we had a waitlist, but it cleared every year. We could reliably say to new families that if they signed up before Thanksgiving every year, they’d get in as soon as the returning camper guarantee expired on November 30. If they signed up in March or April, they’d likely not get in that summer, but they would the following. That was a comfortable status quo.

Since 2015, we have not cleared the previous year’s waitlist when the returning camper guarantee expires on November 30. The waitlist rolls over from year to year. It often takes several years to get in, and some campers age out of their camper years never getting off the waitlist.

In that dynamic, families found themselves in a situation where the most reliable way to get access to the returning camper enrollment guarantee is to attend Junior Session. Campers can only attend Junior Session for two years, so the waitlist turns over more quickly. These days, the vast majority of the first-time four-weekers are returning Junior Session campers.

Making Junior Session the best way to get into the four-week session isn’t fair to the many families who don’t have the option of attending Junior Session due to their school calendar.

If this were the only issue, a potential solution would be to continue to offer Junior Session, but not give those campers returning camper status for the four-week sessions, but given that there are staffing challenges as well, we’ve judged that the better course of action is to focus on our core program, the four-week sessions.

Isn’t there another way to staff Junior Session other than college students? Alumni returning to be counselors perhaps?

Unfortunately not. Junior Session actually got its start staffed only by alumni. Camp moved on from that model because it was unsustainable. Moreover, if we bring in a mostly new staff for Junior Session, we’d need to run another staff training in between Second and Junior Sessions. Given that the fundamental problem is one of not enough days in the summer, that’s not a viable option.

Could you solve this problem by shortening the four-week sessions a bit?

In terms of getting the programs into the days available in the summer, yes, and we considered this option. But, the four-week session is the core of our program. It’s what we do best. It’s what leads to people still thinking of Four Winds as one of their key formative experiences even as adults. Altering the four-week sessions in order to allow Junior Session to continue isn’t consistent with Four Winds serving youth in the best way we can.

My child won’t be ready for a four-week session without doing a shorter camp first. What would you recommend?

We’d recommend attending a one or two-week session at another great camp. There are many, and arguably a camp that does shorter sessions all summer, as opposed to one tacked on to the end of the summer, will do a better job of it than we do. We are part of a wonderful organization called the Western Association of Independent Camps. This is not just any association. It’s a group of 50 or so camps across the West, all of which are committed to excellent programming, and many of them offer one and two-week programs. If you don’t already know of a great camp that offers shorter sessions, we’d recommend starting with WAIC. We’d also be happy to talk you through any options you’re considering.

What will happen to children on the Junior Session 2023 waitlist who don’t get in?

Campers on the 2023 Junior Session waitlist who do not get in will retain their original waitlist date for the purpose of getting into one of the four-week sessions, and so will be ahead in line of families who sign up in the future.

Can I still get on the Junior Session 2023 waitlist?

We closed the Junior Session waitlist on December 15, about three weeks after this announcement went live. The waitlist is quite long, and campers added to it now are very unlikely to get in for summer 2023. Children currently in 3rd are 4th grade are encouraged to get on one of the waitlists for our four-week sessions. Children in 2nd grade and younger can get on the waitlist for one of our four-week sessions when they are eligible, the fall that they’re in 3rd grade, or a fall thereafter.

Can I put a child that is too young to come to camp on the waitlist now?

We understand the desire to do this, but we only put children that are age-eligible for camp on the waitlist. The good news is that no current kindergarten-aged or younger child will be on the Junior Session waitlist for 2023, so when they are in 3rd grade, and ready to apply for the four-week session as rising 4th graders, they’ll all be on a level playing field.

My camper will be a rising 2nd grader in the summer of 2023, so they won’t be eligible for the four-week session in the summer of 2024. What should I consider?

Rising 2nd graders in summer 2023 will be rising 3rd graders in summer 2024. The youngest campers in our four-week session are rising 4th graders, so this cohort will not have an option available to attend Four Winds in 2024.

This is a challenging situation, and we are sorry for it. A solution could be to allow rising 3rd graders to attend the four-week session in 2024, but we don’t think that’s a good idea. The vast majority of 3rd graders are not ready to be away from home for four weeks, and allowing them to come a year early has the potential to sour their entire camp career. Even if an individual child is ready, we would have to place that camper in a cabin or tent with 4th graders in 2024, which can be challenging, and in 2025, they would be a returning four-week camper when all the other 4th grade campers were new to the experience. Even the best-case scenario isn’t very good. It’s better to wait until they’re the right age for the program.

Campers that attend Junior Session in 2023 will be returning campers, so those enrolled will be guaranteed a spot in the four-week session once they’re ready.

2nd graders on the 2023 Junior Session waitlist who do not get in will have a very early waitlist date when they are eligible and ready for a four-week session.

If this announcement results in a family wishing to withdraw from camp or from the waitlist entirely, they can do so with a full refund. Our cancelation policy says that enrolled families can withdraw from camp before November 30 with a full refund. Given this announcement, we’ll automatically extend that to December 23 for all enrolled Junior Session campers. If you need longer to decide, please give us a call. Families on our waitlist can withdraw at any time and receive a refund of their deposit.

If my camper attends Junior Session in 2023, and is eligible but not ready for a four-week session in 2024, what should I consider?

If your camper attends Junior Session in 2023, they will have returning camper status, and will be guaranteed enrollment in a four-week session when they’re ready. You just need to sign them up before November 30 prior to whichever summer you’d like them attend.

In the meantime, we’d encourage you to pursue increasingly independent experiences for them (camps and other independent experiences that are longer, further away from home, with fewer known friends from home, or otherwise further outside their comfort zone) to help get them ready for a four-week session.

Do you foresee any changes to the four-week session?

We are always attempting to improve and adjust to a changing world, but fundamentally, no. The rationale behind this decision is that the four-week session is the core of the Four Winds experience, and we intend to preserve it.