Psychology Majors Get ‘Fantastic’ Clinical Experience with Camp Boost
Throwing a pie in the face of a counselor is a favorite reward among campers. Kaylee Tomasek ’17 shows off her whipped cream face.
by Kristin Distel
Camp BOOST—a three-week summer camp experience—serves the community and provides invaluable training for Ohio University Psychology students, who serve as camp counselors.
“Working at Camp Boost has been a beautiful experience of growing and learning,” says senior Megan Credit. “We can see how these kids have changed since the first day of camp, but the experience has also really changed me,” she remarks.
“I hadn’t had any hands-on clinical experience before signing on as a camp counselor, but Camp Boost gave me the experience I’d been looking for. It taught me that I might want to work with kids who have ADHD and behavioral issues. It has given me a taste of what I could possibly be doing in my career.”
While enrollment is open to all children in first through seventh grades, it is especially geared toward serving the needs of children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). For the past three years, Dr. Brian Wymbs, Assistant Professor of Psychology, and Dr. Frances Wymbs, Assistant Professor of Family Medicine, have coordinated Camp BOOST.
For senior Libby Wertz, a Psychology major who is entering her second year as a lead counselor for Camp Boost, the experience is just as beneficial for the counselors as it is for the children.
“It’s so rewarding to see the progress that the kids make because of the interventions we’re implementing and the different ways we’re helping them. Psychology students have to get clinical experience before we can be clinically licensed. Camp Boost is a great way to do this—and to get to know the OHIO faculty and graduate students better,” says Wertz, who held an internship with the Cleveland Clinic Summer Treatment Program during the summer after freshman year. She has served as a lead counselor at Camp Boost in subsequent years.
“I’ve seen it work firsthand,” she adds. “Camp Boost benefits kids and OHIO students alike. The kids teach us.”
Camp Boost is staffed by OHIO students and led by Drs. Fran and Brian Wymbs.
In addition to gaining invaluable training, students who work as camp counselors gain OHIO course credit. “Students really are the lifeblood of the program,” says co-director Brian Wymbs.
The goal of the camp, Wymbs explains, is to help children get back into the mindset of peer relationships and academic performance expected of them during the school year.
“We want to help them transition from summer months to school. For children with behavioral concerns, it may be difficult for them to make that transition from no structure to lots of structure,” he notes. “Camp Boost provides an affordable and effective service to the community.”
Counselors work individually with the children, helping them to improve their ability to communicate with teachers, peers, parents, and siblings. “Once they realize you’re trying to help them, not to control them, they open up,” Wertz remarks. “Plus, parents really see the advancements and changes in their children’s behavior.”
Social Skills, Sports, Golden Retrievers, and ‘Fun Fridays’
Credit worked as a Camp Boost counselor in 2016 and will return this summer as a lead counselor.
“The kids get to play a lot, but we’re also providing positive reinforcement and behavior modification. Positive reinforcement sells our camp,” Credit states. “Many of these kids have behavioral concerns, and they come to Camp Boost for that reason. We have a great time working with them.”
The camp, held in and around OHIO’s Walter Hall, hosts about 48 kids, who are then divided by age into four groups of 12.
After the children arrive on campus each morning, counselors lead the children in a social skills discussion. Some of these skills include “cooperation, communication, validation, and participation,” Wymbs explains. “This is meant to be a dynamic discussion between kids and counselors. The kids are contributing to the discussion. They’re role-playing and explaining how to use that skill.”
“Fun Fridays” are a favorite for counselors and campers. This counselor takes a whipped cream pie in the face.
Camp Boost also features a heavy emphasis on improving athletic abilities and teamwork skills.
“We emphasize improving sports acumen because athletics are a way that these kids can connect with their peers at school,” Wymbs says. The campers especially learn skills needed to swim and to play soccer, football, and wiffle ball. The camp administers swimming tests early on, and many of the counselors have experience in giving swim lessons and monitoring pool safety. Encouragement, Fran and Brian Wymbs note, is key.
“In many cases, these kids do not receive much encouragement during the school day. Our counselors give them tons and tons of praise throughout the day,” Brian Wymbs notes.
Counselors also lead the children in art classes, where they create a group flag, do tie-dyeing, and build picture frames.
Counselors also have the opportunity to gain classroom experience. To improve their ability to pay attention to lectures, activities, and group work, children attend a science class each day. This classroom time also emphasizes peer reading.
“We pair a stronger reader with weaker reader,” Wymbs explains, “and the stronger readers help their partner. Parents like this arrangement, and it helps the children learn how to work in small groups.”
As with all Camp Boost activities, counselors are present and provide plenty of positive reinforcement.
“We praise kids for paying attention, asking questions, raising their hands, not teasing, staying in their seats, and so on,” Wertz adds. “The same goals are reinforced both inside and outside of the classroom. We also assign them a small amount of homework so kids can get in the habit of completing their work, bringing it back to camp, and turning it in to their teacher. Some kids struggle with this, so it’s great preparation for the academic year.”
One of the highlights of Camp Boost is “Fun Friday,” which feature a “Food Olympics,” games, egg races, and more. The campers earn Fun Fridays based on how well they behave during the week. Those who earn “Level 1 Privilege,” Fran and Brian Wymbs note, get the chance to throw a pie in a counselor’s face.
The campers enjoy petting dogs during recess.
“The kids have a fantastic time,” Franes Wymbs notes. The fun continues during the children’s recess time, when Fran and Brian Wymbs occasionally bring in their two golden retrievers for the campers to play with. “The kids love getting to visit our dogs—but the dogs love all the attention, too,” they note.
‘Camp Boost Gave Me The Experience I’d Been Looking For’
Camp Boost provides OHIO students with an unparalleled opportunity to gain hands-on clinical experience. Counselors consistently remark on the rewarding nature of the program and the fulfillment that comes with seeing children improve their social and behavioral skills.
Psychology major Noah Lorincz-Comi also worked as a Camp Boost counselor in 2016 and found the experience invaluable. “I really enjoyed working with the kids,” he remarks. “They were all so vibrant and full of life. I learned a lot about my own interpersonal skills as well, with the kids but also between camp counselors and Drs. Brian and Fran Wymbs.”
Credit concurs, noting the way in which the camp’s strong leadership benefits both the children and the counselors.
“Drs. Brian and Fran Wymbs do an excellent job of overseeing us and giving us great constructive criticism and feedback. They make sure we learn our roles correctly, and they show us how to monitor students’ behavior while also emphasizing positive reinforcement. That has helped me tremendously,” Credit states.
Fran Wymbs notes that in addition to gaining clinical experience more broadly, working at Camp Boost prepares OHIO students to apply to graduate programs in many different areas, as well as to build a good vita, write a personal statement, and ask for letters of recommendation from professors.
Students such as Wertz also are gathering data and material for their honors theses while serving as counselors, while others bring the skills they have learned to OHIO’s clinical laboratories.
“Many of our counselors end up working in The Center for Intervention Research in Schools (CIRS) lab. Some counselors move on to positions with the Summer Treatment Program,” Brian Wymbs explains. “It’s exciting to see how the staff grows from the first day of training to the last day of camp.”
Students’ work with Camp Boost also generates referrals for the Psychology and Social Work Clinic in Porter Hall, which serves as the training clinic for OHIO graduate students seeking to become clinical psychologists. Some local children who attend Camp Boost also receive assistance in the CIRS lab, which provides a valuable way for children and counselors to maintain an established connection, and for the children to receive continuity of care.
“Camp Boost exposes the local community to the services available here at OHIO,” Brian Wymbs notes. “We encourage families to obtain services in our campus clinics after Camp Boost ends. Many of them want more than three weeks of treatment for their children.”
Pioneering Research Conducted at Camp Boost
Fran and Brian Wymbs have also realized several professional benefits from their co-directorship of Camp Boost. Fran Wymbs, Assistant Professor of Family Medicine at OHIO’s Heritage College of Medicine, is in her second full year of running a research study at the camp.
Dr. Fran Wymbs studies high intensity interval training at Camp Boost
“The aim of the study is to understand the effect of intense exercise on behavior, mood, and academic productivity among kids with behavior issues,” she explains. “I am studying high intensity interval training (HIIT), which involves quick intervals of rigorous exercise with short periods of rest. This has been shown in typically developing kids to result in higher SAT scores.”
“With ADHD, intense exercise could be useful in a variety of ways. We are not sure how exercise may impact behavior and academics, but it could activate neurotransmitter systems (e.g., the dopaminic system), increase blood oxygen in the brain, enhance mood, or provide a fun outlet, any of which could improve ADHD behaviors and boost academic performance. The effect of high intensity exercise has not been examined among ADHD populations though it has been effective in other populations,” she adds.
Even while she is assessing the children’s performance, she notes, positive reinforcement and fun are key.
Dr. Brian Wymbs applies Camp Boost experience to his mentorship of students
“To make it really enjoyable, we turn the exercise into races with water guns, and the kids get Gatorade at the end of their workout,” Wymbs states.
Brian Wymbs, Assistant Professor of Psychology, concurs regarding the broad professional benefits of being involved with a program like Camp Boost. “The camp has influenced my training of graduate students,” he remarks, “especially those who are my advisees. The skills I developed at Camp Boost and, earlier, at the Summer Treatment Program, are very useful in mentoring.”
‘I Can’t Learn These Concepts In a Case File’
The experiences Camp Boost affords are essential in helping OHIO undergraduates shape their goals, Fran Wymbs remarks.
“If students participate in Camp Boost or as many other hands-on clinical or research-based activities as possible, they will begin to figure out whether they want a career in research, clinical work, or counseling. Students do not already have to have their goals streamlined. Experience informs goals.”
Students of various majors and levels of experience are encouraged to become part of Camp Boost. “There is no requirement about grade level,” Brian Wymbs states. “Freshmen are eligible to work at Camp Boost. Just come with an open mind and a lot of energy. Take a risk!”
The co-directors and counselors alike explain that Camp Boost involvement is not limited to psychology majors. Those who are specializing in social work, education, pre-medicine, nursing, and other fields are most welcome.
“The clinical experience is fantastic,” Wertz exclaims. “I am not just jumping into a graduate program without having worked with kids. Camp Boost has taught me what I need to work on, and think on my feet. I can’t learn these concepts in a case file or by reading a study. In terms of my career, I know what I’m signing up for because I have seen it first-hand at Camp Boost.”