Chautauqua Youth and Family Programs Advisory Group
The below interim report is submitted by members of the Youth and Family Programs Advisory Group, formed in March 2020 and appointed by Chautauqua President Michael E. Hill to help inform planning related to Chautauqua’s youth and family programming by Institution leadership. The interim report is the result of listening sessions with various Chautauqua community stakeholders and subsequent Advisory Group conversation from March 2020 through May 2021.
One Year Together: A Community Update
Why We Were Formed
The Chautauqua Youth and Family Programs Advisory Group was created in March of 2020 to serve as a direct resource and sounding board for staff as they consider and develop plans for the future of Chautauqua Institution’s Youth and Family Programs. Chautauqua youth program leaders working in close partnership with the Advisory Group are Alyssa Porter, Director of Youth and Family Programs, and Matt Ewalt, Vice President and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education.
Who We Are
Membership represents a cross-section of personal and family experiences related to Chautauqua’s youth programs, including one-week, multiple-week and full-season attendees, as well as individuals with relevant professional expertise and experiences.
The following individuals serve on the on the Advisory Group:
- Deirdre Anderson
- Erin Cornelius
- Stephanie Dawson
- Laren Knoll Burkhart
- Bijou Clinger Miller
- Jennifer Goldberg Rapoport
- Kelsey Twist Schroeder
- Ben Sorensen
- Sally Struk
In consultation with youth program leadership, the following Youth and Family Programs seasonal staff representatives have been appointed to participate in all advisory group meetings:
- Pie Kasbar of Children’s School
- Alan Rubin of Boys’ and Girls’ Club
The Advisory Group was initially appointed through September 2020, but its work has extended beyond the initial term, and the group of volunteers continues to meet regularly. We seek to serve every member of the Chautauqua community to enhance their experience with Youth and Family Programs. While we strive to honor the rich and longstanding history and traditions of Chautauqua’s youth and family programs, our primary focus is on how to best serve the children and families participating in the programs now and in the future. We also acknowledge that people have varied experiences of Chautauqua and that all of those experiences are valid.
To date, we have:
- Held monthly Advisory Group meetings since March 2020
- Held multiple Listening Sessions with a wide range of Chautauquans, including some sessions targeted to specific groups:
- General Public
- Children’s School/Club Staff
- New Chautauquans
- Children’s School/Club/YAC Leadership Staff
- Weekly Chautauquans
- Teen/Young Adult Chautauquans
- Middle School/High School (5th grade+) Chautauquans
- Elementary (PK-4th grade) Chautauquans
- Chautauquans with Special Needs
- 231 total participants in the Listening Sessions representing 190 different Chautauquans between August 2020 to April 2021.
- Established a direct line of communication through the Chautauqua Youth and Family Programs Advisory Group email address: [email protected].
What We Have Learned
As we collected feedback about people’s experiences of Chautauqua Youth and Family programs, it became clear that people have a wide range of experiences of these programs and hold differing preferences on the future direction of the programs. In order to synthesize all of the feedback we collected, we analyzed detailed meeting notes from each Listening Session and identified the following themes:
Feedback from Chautauqua Youth:
Why Youth Love Chautauqua
- Lifelong friendships
- Freedom and independence
- Opportunity to meet people from a variety of places
- Exposure to new experiences
- The lake
The Youth Activities Center (YAC)
- The youth love the YAC; it was described as a Chautauqua “highlight” for many.
- There was a strong desire for the YAC to be open on Saturday and Sunday, the times when youth have fewer organized activities to attend.
- Youth specifically expressed great enthusiasm for the YAC dances.
Group Formation at CBGC
- Almost all participants expressed a preference for gender-based groups at Club. It was consistently noted that gender-based groups reduce stress related to puberty, body image, different styles of play, and competition in athletic events.
- Virtually all participants agreed that any clubber has the right to choose their group based on their gender identity, and not necessarily their gender assigned at birth.
- The youth expressed a desire for more scheduled coed activities to allow for the formation of friendships as well as shared experiences with opposite sex family members when visiting Chautauqua.
- The youth shared that they are most concerned that changing groups will impact already established friendships and connections.
CBGC Lunch Break
- There was overwhelming support for an opt-in lunch option for clubbers compared to an opt-out option.
- Youth employees expressed a desire to work these lunch programs for a portion of the summer, as opposed to all season, to allow them time to enjoy the traditional 12-2pm lunch break with family as well. They suggested a rotating schedule as one possibility.
Requests for Changes at CBGC
- Some youth requested an adjustment in the Club schedule to make the assigned activities less gender-stereotypical, i.e. girls requested more sports and boys requested more crafts time to make model boats for racing.
Older Youth and the Pier Club (formerly known as the College Club)
- 16-20 year-olds generally do not want to spend time with younger youth at the YAC. These young adults expressed a desire for the Pier Club to remain open later until midnight and on the weekends.
- Older youth expressed enthusiasm for dances at the Pier Club.
- Many youth recognized that not having as many evening opportunities for older high school and college-age Chautauquans has contributed to a culture of underage drinking.
- Youth expressed hope that the Pier Club might be a place where young adults in Chautauqua for all different reasons (counselors, artists, etc.) might be able to meet new people and build more connections. They stressed the most important piece is that they want a space dedicated to them and their needs.
- Many suggestions of additional organized and more informal activities on the grounds were made by youth and parents, specifically aimed at addressing the lack of programming for this age group.
- Alyssa Porter has connected with teens and young adults who attended the listening session and were interested in being contacted to set up a dedicated Advisory Council for this demographic. They will meet regularly throughout the upcoming season.
- Some youth expressed frustration related to communication. There was a desire for clearer communication from the Institution, especially as it relates to changes in youth programming.
- Several youth shared ideas for how to leverage social media technology to promote youth programs.
Feedback from Chautauqua Adults:
Why Adults Love Chautauqua
- Opportunity for family connection, especially multigenerational connections
- Lifelong friendships
- A “learning vacation”
- Love of programming – intellectual, arts, spiritual, youth, special studies
- Opportunity for recreation
- The lake
- Safety and independence for children
- Strong sense of history and tradition
- Being in a place of beauty
- A sense of home
- A chance to make new friends
- Several adults expressed frustration related to communication. Many desire more consistent and detailed information from the Institution, especially as it relates to programmatic changes.
- It was noted that updated technology could be a major help in resolving this issue and promoting better two-way communication.
- The current system utilizes communication with “head of household” gate pass purchasers. The multi-generational structure of Chautauqua has led to many people being left out of communication due to not being a gate pass purchaser.
- Some people expressed a desire for more opportunities for an open exchange of thoughts and ideas.
Respect and Appreciation for Seasonal Staff
- Many adults expressed deep appreciation for the decades of dedicated service that seasonal staff have made in supporting youth and family programs. Community members want to ensure that the efforts, insights, and wisdom of seasonal staff are valued, respected, and recognized.
CBGC Lunch Break
- Many adults expressed appreciation for the opportunity for weekday family lunch during the traditional 12-2pm lunch break from Club.
- There was also general consensus that it is important to provide a safe, supervised, and fun lunchtime opportunity for children who are not able to rejoin their families for the 2-hour break.
- Many adults expressed a preference for an opt-in “Lunch Bunch” for clubbers who need or want it, while not making it the default for all campers.
- Some community members asked for a price structure reflecting the additional supervised time for those that opt-in to the 12-2 pm lunch program.
Group Composition at CBGC
- There were many strong voices that expressed a desire for groups at Club to remain organized by gender.
- There were other voices in the community who had a preference for mixed-gender groups.
- Many community members were open to some modification in group structure, such as:
- Maintaining gender-based groups with more regular and scheduled opportunities for mixing with opposite-sex groups.
- Having co-ed groups from Group One to Group Four and then shifting to a gender based model that reflects developmental changes in adolescents.
- Utilizing a wider age range for groups that does not prioritize grade level but rather birthdates in a specific range.
- There was general consensus that any grouper should be able to choose their group based on their gender identity, and not necessarily their gender assigned at birth.
- Some community members advocated to include this self-selection model on the registration form, making it visible and accessible to all registrants at CBGC.
- There was general consensus that any change should be made in an incremental fashion with concern for preserving the connections that have already been established amongst the children.
Families of Children with Special Needs
- All attendees expressed deep appreciation for being invited into this conversation.
- There was enthusiasm for the Institution’s renewed commitment to inclusivity, especially as it relates to people with special needs.
- Parents shared that most children with special needs were able to be supported and accommodated at Children’s School and that fewer children with special needs were able to be accommodated at B&G Club.
- Some families shared painful examples of times when their children with special needs were mistreated and/or disrespected by other members of the Chautauqua community and/or staff. Most of this negative feedback had not been formally shared in the past, and members of the Chautauqua staff will follow up with individual families to learn more about these individual incidents.
- Parents of children with special needs explained how having more accessible programming for their children would allow the parents to participate in more of the Chautauqua programming.
- There was strong interest in further conversation about what accommodations in traditional youth programs are possible and which are not, and what new opportunities there might be for those Chautauquans with special needs.
- The recommendation was made for Chautauqua youth program leaders to research what steps other camps and programs take to include children with special needs.
- Several community members expressed concerns about a culture of underage drinking, a complex issue that is of course not unique to Chautauqua. Some parents and community members expressed an eagerness to work in partnership with Chautauqua to explore options to keep older youth otherwise engaged while spending the summer at Chautauqua.
- Parents noted that this age group is at a turning point in Chautauqua programming and without more safe and engaging options, families have considered disconnecting from Chautauqua during this phase of life.
Balancing Tradition and Innovation
- As with any historic organization, Chautauqua has many rich and meaningful traditions. Several community members expressed a desire to maintain a thoughtful balance between cherished long-standing traditions and the need to be an innovative, forward-thinking organization.
What Happens Next
The Advisory Group would like to take the opportunity in the 2021 season to be physically present in Chautauqua and engaged with the community. We plan to continue hosting listening sessions with stakeholders as they return to Chautauqua and immerse themselves in life on the grounds. After the 2021 season, the Advisory Group will meet and advise program leaders based on the information gathered from Chautauquans throughout 2020 and 2021 in preparation for the summer of 2022 and beyond.
Note on Gratitude and Appreciation
The Advisory Group would especially like to thank Alyssa Porter, Director of Youth and Family Programs and Matt Ewalt, Vice President and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education for their support and partnership over the past year. We also want to thank Chautauqua’s President Michael Hill for convening the group and supporting our work. We are deeply grateful to all Chautauquans who wrote to us, spoke to us individually, or participated in one of our community listening sessions. We feel privileged to support the Institution’s mission by pursuing “self-improvement through lifelong learning” and seeking “provocative, thoughtful involvement of individuals and families.”
We Continue To Welcome Your Thoughts
If you would like to get in touch with the Advisory Group, you can reach us via email at [email protected].