From Camp Walt Whitman to Success Academy: Why Working as a Camp Counselor Is the Best Job
William Abbot idolized his counselors when he was a camper at Camp Walt Whitman. “Every year there was somebody new and inspiring, funny, charming — just someone who I wanted to be, and when I got to the age where I could do it, I wanted that experience myself.”
He spent the summer of 2010 as a counselor, his second summer in college, after being a camper at Camp Walt Whitman for seven years.
“It’s a very personal, human job,” he says. And because you’re at an overnight sleepaway camp, spending a summer with kids, “you get every emotion — you get the fun and the good and the collective energy and feelings. But also you get moments where kids and your peers are not always at their best.”
It’s in those moments that you learn how to remain cool, calm, and positive, says Abbot. “I think recognizing that not everyone is always their best and how you manage that situation yourself and how you help others — you get a lot of that practice at camp,” he says.
Working at camp helped Abbot realize he wanted to pursue a career in education. “I felt good and comfortable in a space where I was working with children, and being a leader for kids and other counselors and young people around me.” If he had taken the kind of internship that “people expect you to do,” he says, he would have missed out on that experience.
Knowing he enjoyed working with kids made it easy to decide his next steps. He worked for Teach for America after college, where his work and summers at Camp Walt Whitman served him well.
“I felt comfortable knowing that I would be good at the part of the job that was kid-facing. The natural time and energy with kids and with other people was something that I felt good about, because of my experience at camp and as a counselor.”
Today he is the principal at two K-4 Success Academy charter schools in New York City. Reflecting on his current role, he says camp provided another essential life skill: balancing life and work.
“As a counselor, you work with kids in your bunk and kids across your age bracket, but then there’s also time for you as an adult. When you go to summer camp and meet people from all over the world, you also have this opportunity to be a young adult and have fun as an adult and balancing that time with kids and your job and time with the adults is a good skill.”