April 26, 2021-- “The mission of our camp is to encourage collaboration and empower children to be aspiring leaders,” reads the message sent to prospective parents of those future leaders back in late winter. “Students will learn about building a positive mindset, the necessity of self-care, the importance of role models and community leaders, and fostering empathy among all.”
And thus is the continuing vision of Toms River Regional Schools’ Peer Leadership Camp, which debuted to rave reviews in 2018, returned and evolved in 2019, and then took a pandemic-induced hiatus last year. In 2021, the popular camp will take place in spring instead of summer.
“The transition from summer to spring was related to the safety guidelines put in place due to the pandemic, and so that we could host the camp in person and hold the vast majority of activities outdoors,” said camp ambassador and Beachwood Elementary School Supervisor James Klass.
The overarching camp themes of self-care and empathy resonate even more so this year, Klass said, given the effects of the pandemic and the necessity for more students to embrace leadership roles in middle school and beyond.
The Peer Leadership Camp will run two sessions, with each encompassing two Saturdays, and will be hosted at Beachwood. Session 1 is May 1 and 8; Session 2 is May 15 and 22. Each camp will serve about 50-60 students.
Those interested in participating in the camp applied by submitting videos describing the qualities that make them good leaders. Students were then identified in coordination with teachers and building administration based on their video applications, social and emotional skills, attendance, and demonstration of leadership qualities.
The additional staff hours and resources the camp demands are being funded by the Toms River Family Health & Support Coalition (TRFHSC). The TRFHSC is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through its New Jersey Health Initiatives program.
“We’re so grateful to the Toms River Family Health & Support Coalition for the opportunity to bring this camp back, and I’m not sure we’ve ever been this excited to host it,” said Elementary Curriculum Director Rachel Cicala. “Not only do we have an extraordinary group of students who have all the qualities to become great leaders; each one of them is positively giddy there’s no ‘virtual’ prefacing the word ‘camp’ here, which is something we can all relate to. We’re all just excited to interact in safe and fulfilling ways, in-person, and foster a path for these students to become their best selves.”
Update May 10, 2021: View pictures from this year's Peer Leadership Camp below: