SURPASS’ Secret Sauce: Meeting Teens Where They’re At

I conceived and launched SURPASS, for teens, in 2007. What I initially wanted to create was an event for teens, including my daughter, that included some of the best ‘camp’ experiences I had had when I was a teen, and add some other components that I thought would make it richer.

Those other components included intentionally creating a small, caring community in which each participant shared some responsibility for the whole, providing the best nutrition we could afford, providing stimulating and interesting workshops that went beyond many conventional camp experiences (that can be pretty tedious), supporting free time for kids to hang out, and drawing kids’ into the beauty of a natural setting, whatever that might be.


photo from Surpass 2007

The results have exceeded my expectations. With the sponsoring help of SelfDesign Learning Foundation we just completed our 8th SURPASS for 30 teens, all of whom left feeling energized and very complete after our week together. Many indicated they hope to return next year. Some said, as in other years, it is the best experience of their year.
It would be highly presumptuous to suggest SURPASS is ‘better’ than other camp experiences when I know many kids value attending camp very deeply. But I do know many camps have a factory approach to dealing with kids that leaves many feeling unfulfilled.
The components of SURPASS are so effective because of our scale, intentional intimacy and also a high sensitivity in myself and among our other leaders and workshop instructors in orienting to where these kids “are at” in their social and developmental trajectory.

Teens are highly social so it’s really important to nurture that, and we do through emphasizing games and sharing (music, stories, crafts). Likewise teens are merging into adulthood and deserve to share in responsibility, something they aspire to very willingly given the right framing. Providing ample nutrition ensures they stay energized from morning through night – and they do! And giving them access to a natural and beautiful surrounding helps balance their emotional lives, almost magically (Interestingly, a recent article in the New York Times, ‘How Walking in Nature Changes the Brain‘ provides ample evidence for this ‘nature effect’).
And, finally, to no surprise, myself and other SURPASS leaders come away each year feeling very gratified that our efforts to support youth in this way are so valued by the participants and their families.
If you’d like to learn more, head to the SURPASS website.

SURPASS 2012-cards

The ‘natural habitat’ of kids at SURPASS

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