I have been on a number of field trips, but this past week marked my first chaperoning experience. Four field trips in as many days was certainly challenging for me. We enjoyed the Lincoln Park Zoo on Thursday, the Museum of Science and Industry on Friday, Flick Outdoor Pool on Monday and the Chicago Sky Fitness Festival on Tuesday. It was a great week, but definitely not without a few learning experiences for coaches and campers.
During lunch at the zoo, a young camper approaches me. She has brought a bit of spending money and wants to visit a souvenir store. A fellow coach and I decide that we should break the group up so that girls who want to go to the store have the opportunity to do so. I am in charge of the girls who are not going to the store, and we set off to see zebras, camels and alpacas. I did not realize, however, that a girl who wanted to go to the store had been accidentally left with my group. At the end of the day, our groups combine at the entrance.
There are a lot of tired faces in the group, but this camper is looking particularly frustrated. I approach her and ask what’s going on. “You didn’t let me go to the store!” she says, holding back tears. She is a girl who I have really connected with, so I can tell that she is struggling with the new anger she is feeling towards me. “Everyone has new things and I didn’t get to buy anything!” Another coach recognizes that this camper needs some assistance and takes over. I want to help, but I realize that this girl is feeling a lot of frustration because of my mistake, so I remove myself for the time being and let the other coach talk with her.
On the bus ride home, many girls are showing off their purchases. The girl who was left out is putting on a brave face, but she is visibly upset that she was excluded. At the end of the day, I approach the camper and apologize for my mistake. “We messed that up today,” I tell her. “You did a good job on the bus ride even though you were upset, and we really appreciate your positive attitude.” I also have to explain that there will be no more runs to the gift store because of how it made excluded campers feel. Not only has she missed her opportunity to buy something at the zoo, but she also won’t get a chance to buy anything at the museum the following day. “I don’t know what to tell you,” I admit. “It is unfair, but it was our mistake and we don’t want you or other campers to feel that way again.” The next day she comes to camp with a great attitude, and this week she is maintaining a positive work ethic. I truly appreciate my camper’s patience with me – it is good to remember that while the girls can challenge us some days, we “adults” are also very capable at making mistakes. As educators and mentors, we cannot expect our camper’s respect until we model the ability to admit that we were wrong.