Whatever your age, it’s hard to beat relaxing with a book on a lazy summer afternoon while sprawled out on your bed, a couch, a bench, or kicked back in a big Adirondack chair in the shade. No wonder reading is so popular at Birch Rock. While there’s plenty of action packed into each day and plentiful opportunities for boys to run and jump and swim and shoot and paddle canoes and row, the time devoted to resting and recharging between these pursuits with a book is special.
Reading is not just an afterthought at Birch Rock, something to do when there’s nothing else to do; it’s an intentional part of the culture and has been from the beginning. Founders Chief and Onie Brewster were career educators who viewed the summers not as a break from learning but as a place to enhance and stimulate the development of boys’ minds beyond the confines of school. Through her tutoring and love of books, Onie was a guiding force for countless boys during the summers of their formative years.
That spirit has been kept alive through the decades and continues to thrive. The Allen Kearns Library is unrivaled among Maine camps of any size, filled with thousands of volumes across all genres to supplement the stacks of books that boys bring with them. Most importantly, it is staffed by a pair of outstanding professional educators: Pam Stock and Ruth Wilson.
“I love the contact with the boys and the attitude in the library,” says Pam, who has been at Birch Rock since 1994. “It’s really positive and upbeat. Most of the boys have a genuine interest in their education, and the others get swept up into the spirit of it.”
In addition to running the library and keeping tabs on the staggering number of pages that campers read in pursuit of Avid Reader and Voracious Reader badges, Pam and Ruth provide individual tutoring services that are tailored to a boy’s needs. If he is an English language learner or struggling reader who needs a full custom-made curriculum with daily one-on-one sessions built into their activity schedule, they can make that happen. They are also there for the boy who just wants to pop in during First Rest and get help licking fractions once and for all. With Pam’s credentials and experience in special education and learning disabilities and Ruth’s mathematical expertise as a fifth- and sixth-grade teacher, they can meet the needs of any camper.
According to Pam, they tutor an average of fifteen to twenty boys every summer, with many more who stop by with an academic question or need some help finding a good book to read. Because of the care taken to craft a learning plan for each camper, she asks that parents provide advanced notice of their needs as early as March or April rather than waiting until Opening Day. That way they can hit the ground running and get the most of their time at camp.
“We get all kinds of letters and thank-yous from parents after every summer,” Pam says. “They see what a difference it makes in their boys.”
Inside and outside of the library, you’ll always find a boy with a book at Birch Rock. Between the long rest periods tucked into the schedule ahead of lunch and dinner and before Lights Out, campers have ample time to go adventuring with Harry Potter or Frodo or Luke Skywalker and engage their imaginations while recharging their batteries. And it happens from Hilton A all the way up through Cabin 8 and Pete’s Palace, even out in the woods on trips. It’s cool to read at Birch Rock.
“The older guys are role models for the younger ones,” Pam says, “not only in the library, but reading in their cabins. It’s what makes the culture here stand out.” Sometimes it takes a kid the whole summer to get hooked on reading – even the very last night, in one instance that she remembers fondly – but almost all come around to it. Like the friendships and memories and lazy summer afternoons, it’s a piece of Birch Rock that they take home with them for a lifetime.
Donations of used books and gift purchases of new books are always appreciated. Pam and Ruth take requests from campers every summer, so contact BRC to find out what’s on their list for 2017; fantasy and sci-fi are always popular, as is the latest edition of the Guinness Book of World Records.
-Russ “Coach” Wilson
This post was written by Mike Mattson