Regional Spotlight - North America - November 2017
Make Learning Fun
Every Monday all summer long, approximately 300 children pour through a special entrance at SeaWorld Orlando. These aren’t just regular park guests—they’re part of the SeaWorld summer camp program, which celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2017. These weekly sessions allow students of all ages to experience the park, but with a strong educational focus.
“Any teacher will tell you kids learn best when they’re having fun,” says Tammy Assid, supervisor of zoological education for SeaWorld Orlando. She’s been working with the camps since their inception in 1992 and sees the program as a huge benefit to the children and the park.
“Future animal ambassadors—that’s what you’re hoping for,” she says. “These kids are the ones who will be making the decisions in protecting the planet in the future. We want them to have these experiences so when they get older, they can recall them and make positive changes.”
The SeaWorld Camp Experience
SeaWorld has two different camp programs: Day Camps and Resident Camps. The former are for preschoolers through eighth grade and run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday. Parents are required to personally sign their children in and out each day (photo ID is required). The groups are broken down by grade level, and each student has a choice between two different experience paths for the week. For example, fourth and fifth graders choose between “Animal Antics” that focuses on animal behaviors, or “Feeding Frenzy,” which highlights animal dietary requirements.
These curricula are mostly tweaks to the program, as all participants get “the full SeaWorld experience,” Assid says. This includes riding coasters, attending animal shows, etc. SeaWorld’s conservation message comes through loud and clear, though, no matter which program the children choose.
“We want the engagement,” Assid says. “We want them making a connection with animals and, if they love those animals, what the kids can do to help protect them.”
Students have several interactive sessions with both animals and their caregivers. During a session outside the orca stadium, for instance, a trainer explains how she and her colleagues care for the killer whales; children inspect a treat of frozen Jell-O as part of the experience. Other children assist in feeding stingrays, as SeaWorld staff explain aspects of the animals that make them special. Campers are encouraged to ask questions of the trainers and their counselors throughout the day.
|“We want them making a connection with animals and, if they love those animals, what the kids can do to help protect them.”—Tammy Assid, SeaWorld Orlando|
Students in grades seven through 12 are eligible for the Resident Camps, which means participants stay overnight for five nights in a combination of on-property facilities and nearby partner hotels. This program is geared for students interested in animal-related careers, where they learn about working with marine animals and spend time directly with animal care staff. As such, this group spends a full day at SeaWorld’s exclusive Discovery Cove park, where they snorkel with tropical fish, feed birds, and swim with dolphins.
“Is this really what you want to do? Can you handle this sort of a relationship with an animal?” Assid says are the kinds of questions this upper-level experience helps answer. “And then we show them the hard work it takes to take care of these animals.”
SeaWorld Day Camps run $350/week and include lunch, snacks, a water bottle, and camp T-shirt. The Resident Camps are $1,200/week, which covers all meals, as well as airport pickup, if necessary (Resident Camps are popular for out-of-towners). Children are divided into groups of no more than 24. Parents also have the option of purchasing a discounted park ticket when they pick their children up in the afternoon to spend the rest of the day at SeaWorld, as the children are automatically granted access. Parents can also register for an extra two hours of supervision for their children, until 5 p.m., to help accommodate work schedules. Finally, SeaWorld offers a photo subscription option that allows parents to purchase professional pictures taken of their children throughout the week.
|SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay ensure campers receive the full park experience during the week. (Credit: Seaworld)|
What It Takes to Operate a Successful Camp
SeaWorld Orlando dedicates one full-time employee to each group of 24 students, along with an intern; in total, there are approximately 40 staffers working the program each week. The camps are accredited by the American Camp Association (ACA), and anyone working with the program undergoes an extensive interview process, a background check, and a drug test. A nationally recognized association focused on quality, health matters, and safety issues, ACA ensures camp practices have been measured against national standards and go beyond a state’s basic licensing requirement.
But what does it take to make a good camp counselor?
“Understanding the kids and their development—what they can handle at any given age,” Assid says. “Staff make or break a program. Hire people who like working with them—talking to them, not at them.”
Assid says several former campers come back and work for the park as adults. One of her students participated as a 5-year-old and is now an assistant supervisor at the park: “They develop that connection, and then they want to further it.”
She says the Day Camps, in particular, are primarily local programs that build a relationship with the community and its parents, many of whom bring their children back year after year.
“For many Central Florida families, SeaWorld Camp is a family tradition,” says Jim Dean, president of SeaWorld Orlando. “Our camp experiences grow along with their children. Each year, hundreds of campers come here for the opportunity to get up-close with our animals, enjoy all the park has to offer, make new friends, and ultimately learn how they, too, can make a difference in our world.”
Camps are offered at SeaWorld parks in San Diego, Orlando, and San Antonio, and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. For more information, visit www.seaworldcamp.com.