There is a buzzing, bustling electricity at Not Back to School Camp. It is a place where the serendipity of a chance conversation or a planned activity have equal chance of bringing about a new friendship or a life-changing realization. It is a place where homeschooled, unschooled, and self-educated teenagers are celebrated and supported. It is also a place that literally includes “magic” and “wild spontaneous fun” in the mission statement.
It’s hard to believe that Not Back to School Camp has existed for more than 20 years. Many moons ago, when I first attended camp as a baggy-pantsed 17 year old, I never imagined how much camp would expand or how my journey would continue to meander alongside it. What was once one location has grown into many. From the base of a waterfall in southern Oregon, to the moss-draped forest of Camp Myrtlewood, to the blazing red leaves of Vermont in fall, to the desert of Joshua tree: Not Back to School Camp has become many places.
This past year, teenagers traveled from as far away as Serbia to see what happens when they convene with other young people who are trusted to pursue learning that is non-traditional. There are no set bedtimes. Few things are mandatory. Workshops and activities are led by teens as well as staff. This past year workshops included: sticker making, basics of piano, Argentine tango, “how to get stuff done,” cyanotypes (19th century photography), trauma resilience/how to develop emotional resiliency, tinkering/maker space, “how to move out,” nurturing soil for fertility and health, what goes on in a US Embassy?, babies: your questions answered, Charleston and Waltz (dance), intro to Arabic language, drawing cats & random things, investigating privilege, “how to have a non-trivial conversation,” discussion on religion and spirituality, capoeira (Brazilian martial art), soccer, and so many more.
Executive Creative Director at Buzzfeed and NBTSC Alumna Summer Anne Burton leads a workshop for campers on social media.
I am often humbled by the young people who I meet at camp. By their intelligence, their courage, their instinct for fairness, and the trust they offer to those of us on staff. Not everyone who works with youth experiences the feeling of being on the same team. It’s exhilarating and it’s a privilege. Campers seek out staffers to discuss the things that are central to their lives: friendships and families, passions and plans, heartaches and hopes.
In ways both large and small, I’ve seen teenagers do remarkable things. One of the most important things I’ve learned from campers at Not Back to School Camp is you don’t know what young people are capable of until you’ve believed in them.
I am so grateful to all of the staff, campers and families who played a part in the 2016 season. It was great to be at every session in 2016, but in 2017 I’ll be scaling back. Once again I’ll be delighted to be sharing the directing role with NBTSC founder, executive director and thinker-upper Grace Llewellyn and for the first time ever, longtime staffer Matt Sanderson! I hope you’ll join us!