Junior Session Sunset
(Scroll down for FAQ)
Our Board of Trustees, in consultation with the Year-Round leadership team at camp, made the decision in fall 2022 that 2023 would be the last summer we offered our one-week Junior Session for the foreseeable future.
Our decision came 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 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 middle of August or even earlier. We reached the point where we needed to acknowledge the reality of the shortening summer and adjust our program calendar.
We concluded that the best way to serve our mission is to focus on the core of what we do, the four-week sessions. We didn’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 impacts 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.
While we made the decision in the fall of 2022, we recognize that families often lose touch with us when they don’t have camp aged children in their family, so people will discover this news for the first time for years to come, and will have questions. We’ve created an FAQ that we hope will answer your concerns. If your question is not answered there, please email it to us.
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.
Junior Session filled easily and had 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 was 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 was another challenge with Junior Session, which related 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 was to attend Junior Session. Campers could only attend Junior Session for two years, so the waitlist turned over more quickly. This created a situation in which the vast majority of the first-time four-weekers were returning Junior Session campers.
Making Junior Session the best way to get into the four-week session wasn’t fair to the many families who don’t have the option of attending Junior Session due to their school calendar.
If that were the only issue, a potential solution would have been to continue to offer Junior Session, but not give those campers returning camper status for the four-week sessions, but given that there were staffing challenges as well, we judged that the better course of action was 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?
What happened to children on the Junior Session 2023 waitlist who don’t get in?
Campers on the 2023 Junior Session waitlist who did not get in retained their original waitlist date for the purpose of getting into one of the four-week sessions (unless they voluntarily withdrew from the waitlist), and so will be ahead in line of families who sign up in the future.
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. So, the first time campers can get on the waitlist for the main session is the fall when they’re in 3rd grade. This applies to everyone, so everyone is on a level playing field.
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 was that the four-week session is the core of the Four Winds experience, and we intend to preserve it.