Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

09.12.16What is ‘Camp Uncommon’? (And Could It Possibly Be Any More Fun?)

vlcsnap-2016-09-12-08h51m23s683My colleague Josh Phillips had one project he was most passionate about this year: Camp Uncommon– which involved running two week summer camp for 115 of our middle school students from five cities on the campus of Maine’ s Colby College this past summer. To say is was a success is an understatement so I asked Josh to blog about it.

At Uncommon Schools, our mission is to close the achievement gap and prepare low-income students to succeed in and graduate from college.  In order to accomplish that mission, we believe in providing high-quality academic instruction for our students every day.  But of course that’s not enough. It is critical that our scholars have other opportunities to grow and develop, and while many of those experiences can happen within school, others happen outside of it- even outside the school year.  That was the impetus for Camp Uncommon – a two-week overnight summer camp experience for our middle school students.

vlcsnap-2016-09-12-08h53m32s991More specifically, we started Camp Uncommon as a proof of concept to:

  1. provide an opportunity to build a tight-knit community of Uncommon middle school campers in a setting that ensured excellence in exploration, learning, and fun;
  2. increase students’ social, emotional, and non-cognitive skills (e.g., self-confidence, independence, responsibility, curiosity, etc.), which are essential to college and life success;
  3. create an additional pipeline for strong, diverse teacher candidates for our schools by providing exposure to Uncommon for counselors new to our organization; and
  4. provide a tremendous summer job opportunity/experience for our alumni students and rising 12th graders.

vlcsnap-2016-09-12-08h51m45s981We are happy to report that over the course of two weeks at Colby College in Maine this past July, campers and staff members became a warm, loving, close Uncommon community.


Uncommon students proved to be incredible campers.  They loved all aspects of camp – living in dorms, camping outside, playing capture the flag, making s’mores at a campfire, dressing up and dancing at our social, staying up late to play marathon Monopoly games, cheering on the Portland Sea Dogs, singing camp songs each night—yes, there is a Camp Uncommon song–participating in Spoken Word, learning how to do improvisational acting, dominating at tennis baseball, and swimming, swimming, and more swimming. Our kids could not get enough of the water.  Did we mention that they swam a lot?vlcsnap-2016-09-12-08h53m41s244


Our own experience as camp staff exceeded all expectations too.  Uncommon school staff members who became program administrators and counselors loved working with students in a different way, and cherished being able to utilize their own interests and skills (e.g., their own passion for acting or art).  Staff members left camp rejuvenated, re-energized, and feeling deeply connected to Uncommon. vlcsnap-2016-09-12-08h50m29s586Plus they swam a lot.


We had several Uncommon high schoolers serve as junior counselors, and watching them work with the younger students was fantastic.  One rising 12th grader actually taught music class on his own, and one of his teachers (who was also a counselor at camp) described how seeing this side of him was such a source of pride.

vlcsnap-2016-09-12-08h51m01s634We had a few Uncommon graduates serve as counselors as well, and it was evident that they gained so much from giving back to the campers, as well as benefiting from having a summer job with us.


Simply put, Uncommon MS students, rising 12th graders, alumni, and teachers at Camp Uncommon had a great time, learned a lot and inspired us—and, we think–themselves.  It was a privilege and a pleasure to have them as campers and staff members during the inaugural session of Camp Uncommon, and we look forward to having them back next summer.  We are proud that Camp Uncommon truly felt like a “one Uncommon” experience for all those involved.vlcsnap-2016-09-12-08h50m05s944


We are happy to share this slideshow, which captures the amazing time we spent together in Maine.  Enjoy!


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