Pfeifer Camp’s College and Career Readiness Program: An Innovative Opportunity to Help Our Students Succeed
By Adrienne Hagen
Program History and Overview
For over 80 years, Pfeifer Camp has been providing free out-of-doors experiential programming for at-risk and disadvantaged youth of central Arkansas. In1988, the Alternative Classroom Experience (A.C.E.) was created for 3rd-5th graders from the school districts in central Arkansas by Executive Director Sanford Tollette IV. Along with A.C.E., Pfeifer Camp continued its summer programming as well.
Pfeifer Camp is currently accredited by the American Camping Association and is a licensed residential child care facility through the Department of Human Services. As a non-profit agency, Pfeifer Camp receives funding from and is partners with the Downtown Kiwanis Club of Little Rock, the Little Rock School District, Pulaski County Special School District, the Charles A. Fueauff Foundation, AmeriCorps, 21st Century Community Learning Centers, Title I/Part A Neglected, the Child Nutrition Program, and the City of Little Rock.
A.C.E. was created as a way to bring youth termed “at-risk” into the out-of-doors to have experiences they may not get the chance to have due to their circumstances. As a teacher in the public schools, Tollette began to envision a type of program that intervened in younger students’ lives before life went so off-track that they ended up in the juvenile system. The term “at-risk,” to him, meant getting to the kids before they got caught up in the legal system due to their situation.
Along with attending school daily, students go camping once a week and they learn to live and work together with nine other peers and their two cabin counselors. The cabin counselors are young adults who come from around the nation and dedicate a year of service as AmeriCorps volunteers at Pfeifer Camp. During their five weeks at camp, the students focus not only on academics, but also on their behavior, self-concept, ability to work with others, outdoor living skills, leadership, and personal responsibility.
More than anything quantifiable, the overwhelming gain these students and their families make is being a part of a place that is a safe haven, a place of belonging and a place founded on respect despite each other’s differences, and a long-term partnership once the student graduates from the A.C.E. program. For these graduates and a select group of students chosen as “Counselors In Training” (CITs), this intentional and beneficial long-term commitment was enhanced in August 2011 through the creation of the College and Career Readiness program for high-school-aged students.
A Growing Program
After being awarded two substantial grants, one from the TK Foundation Fund, focusing on professional skills related to career development, entrepreneurial skills, life skills, and college readiness skills, and another from Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, focusing on helping marginalized males graduate from high school and enter college, the College and Career Readiness program took flight.
Although the C.I.T. program has been functioning at Pfeifer Camp for over 30 years, the added element of intentionally providing resources related to going to college and/or successfully obtaining a job has been met with overwhelmingly positive feedback by the students. One-hundred percent of eighteen of the College and Career Readiness program students recently surveyed confirmed that the skills they have learned while attending the program would be helpful for a job.
The top skills all eighteen students confirmed were as follows:
Working with diversity
On average, these eighteen students have been participating in Pfeifer Camp programs for six years. Half of them graduated from the A.C.E. program and have been attending camp ever since. “Buy-in” to the program and the mission of helping “at-risk” youth have been the cornerstones of the success of this program.
The ability to provide long-term support from 3rd grade to 12th grade is the epitome of commitment and support for families that have the odds against them and may not have the same type of access to resources and experiences as Pfeifer Camp provides. In the last three years, the College and Career Readiness participants have had access to experiences such as visiting three universities in Arkansas, participating in a discussion led by civil rights activist Reverend James Webb at the Central High Museum National Historic Site, and attending the Take a Stand to Keep a Seat Youth Mentoring Summit, featuring keynote speaker Dr. Bernice King, daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
These events provide access to social issues and a chance to expand the students’ cultural awareness. During the spring and summer months the students also helped to start and maintain a garden from which they marketed and sold the produce they harvested. One of the most profitable ideas the students came up with was taking photos during summer camp and selling the photo rights to parents through a Dropbox folder.
As Pfeifer Camp’s College and Career Readiness program continues to develop, it has been found that one of the most important aspects of continued success is the input the students give in reference to what they want to work on. They keep coming back and Pfeifer Camp will continue to serve and support the future leaders of America.
Adrienne Hagen has worked at Pfeifer Camp for over three years; most recently serving as Program Director since August of 2012. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Concordia University in Portland, Oregon, and is currently taking a course to become a Certified Career Development Facilitator in order to best serve the students she works with. Along with her role as Program Director at Pfeifer Camp, she has presented at many conferences for organizations such as the Association of Experiential Education, AmeriCorps, and 21st Century Community Learning Centers. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.