Jay Brown, Director of Summer Camp at Manlius Pebble Hill School

Educator of the Month
Photo provided by jay brown

1. What is your education background and what you are currently doing?

I have been working in schools and at summer camps for almost 20 years now. My first experience as a camp counselor was when I spent three summers working at an overnight camp called Camp Colby in Saranac Lake as an Environmental Educator for the DEC. This is where I first fell in love with working at summer camps! Later, I transitioned back to Syracuse for the summers, and was fortunate to find my way into the perfect position at Manlius Pebble Hill School’s Summer Place as a camp counselor. After my fourth summer, I was incredibly grateful to be named the director of MPH’s camp, a position I’ve now held for eight years. In addition to summer camp work, I also spent about 15 years working in special education in the Fayetteville-Manlius and East Syracuse Minoa school districts, as well as with non-profit organizations. And this year, I was truly fortunate to join Manlius Pebble Hill School’s staff as a full-time Core Health teacher.

2. Tell us about the summer camp at Manlius Pebble Hill School. 

MPH offers week-long camp experiences for all local kids (not just MPH students) over a period of six weeks beginning in June. We offer a ton of fun choices for kids. They get experience with athletics, cooking, music, science, and more. We have programs for kids of all ages, PreK through grade 12, and our focus is on providing a safe and extremely fun summer camp experience with a little learning snuck in there too. We pick a theme for each week (that keeps it interesting for kids who attend multiple weeks), and we let kids choose from a ton of “activity blocks,” that include jewelry making, dance, football, crafts, music, cooking, ping pong, art, and more. Every week ends with performances by our own campers for the whole camp. We’ve had dance performances, plays, gameshows, carnivals … you name it. The other positive is that our summer camp ties into the MPH School’s Core Health philosophy, which is really about developing the overall child: not just physical health, but emotional and social health, too. We want kids to have fun and learn how to work with their peers, as well as be independent. Another plus is that our summer camp is staffed by a lot of adults who are teachers throughout the regular school year. We have some fantastic college-aged counselors too, but the adult teachers really give us that depth.

3. What do you love the most about being the director of the summer camp program?

I love that my job is to create fun opportunities for kids in a safe and positive atmosphere. I have vivid and special memories of great summers from my childhood, and it’s really an honor for me to be able to be a part of creating lifetime memories for these kids from all over the area. I also love seeing the kids who I saw the summer before and who go to another school – how they’ve grown and changed in those months in between. I get to play and have fun for a living. What could be better? I also am really happy to be part of the MPH community. The overall culture of the school, our core values are authenticity, respect, curiosity, kindness, and agency – we don’t just put them up on a wall, we really live them. And that is important to me.

4. What has been the most challenging thing as director – and how do you overcome it? 

COVID, by far, was the most challenging thing I’ve dealt with in terms of the summer camps. In 2020, we made the difficult decision of not holding the main camp, and that was incredibly hard for me because I knew how much kids needed the experiences and how it was going to disappoint them. Then in 2021, the challenge was to return to summer camp in a way that met all of the safety requirements but was still fun. We did it, but there was not only the challenge of keeping the kids safe AND happy, but also making sure the staff didn’t feel burned out. A lot of them were teachers coming off the most challenging school year of their lives, so we had to make sure things were balanced for them as well. And, in the end, it was the most rewarding camp we’ve had. I can look back on that summer with so much pride at the great experience we were able to provide. And most of the staff is returning this year! I feel really good about that because of all the talent they bring!

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