Students at Oregon State spend several years learning the ins and outs of their degree, but one unique program turns theory into application – by providing professional development skills in a real work environment on campus.
As part of KidSpirit, an outreach program for youth, college students gain experience not only as educators responsible for creating and implementing their own lesson plans, but they also learn business techniques in marketing, accounting, program development, hiring, performance evaluations, leadership and more.
“What makes KidSpirit and my job so fun and unique is the college students we work with,” says Oregon State University KidSpirit Director Karen “Big Mama K” Swanger. “KidSpirit college students gain real life professional skills that cover all aspects of operating a positive youth development program, and really a business.”
Because KidSpirit invests in staff development, training and continual feedback, the result is a program that is high-energy and an engaged learning environment for both the participants and student workers.
“KidSpirit is more than a job to me, it is a life experience that has shaped me and will continue to shape me through both my personal and professional ventures,” says KidSpirit Camp Counselor Lauren “Montana” Stoddard. “Since working at KidSpirit, I have been able to work on leadership skills such as working well within a team. Working together with my peers is such a great opportunity that I can use later on in future jobs.”
“It’s really all about building skills, increasing self-esteem, fostering personal talents, creating friendships in a safe and positive environment and having a lot of fun,” Karen says.
KidSpirit offers year-round activities for youth ages 2 through 18 in sports, arts, science and cooking. Anything the Oregon State campus has to offer, KidSpirit turns into an educational activity.
“I love seeing the way the campers’ faces light up every day while they’re at camp,” Lauren says. “I am so thankful I was given the opportunity to work for this amazing organization that’s making a difference in our community.”
“While at KidSpirit, I realized I wanted to do something very similar to it,” says Former KidSpirit Head Instructor Slade “Top Hat” Thackeray. “I wanted to focus on the arts and confidence building specifically, and I’m now in the third year of running my very own arts program called Young Artists Playtrium in Dallas, Ore. So much of the structure and vision in my program is what I took away from KidSpirit.
Staff at KidSpirit have the opportunity to work on skills beyond what they would learn in the childcare sector. They work not only as part of a team, but also take on leadership roles within the program such as camp directors, activity coordinators and counselors.
As a program that is run nearly exclusively by college students, staff receive a unique experience working and solving problems with their peers.
“I’m so passionate about it because I see the positive difference it makes in my children’s confidence and communication skills, as well as the close-knit relationships they develop with other staff members,” says KidSpirit Staff Parent Donna Keim. “All of the KidSpirit staff members are very positive and are excellent role models for the kids they are in charge of each day.”
“Even though I only got to work at KidSpirit for a year and half, it really shaped my career and my personal life, and I am so thankful for the opportunity I was given,” Slade says.