By: Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer
Behavioral research shows that by the time they begin their school years, young girls and boys already have some pretty “defined” ideas of what men and women can or cannot do, especially regarding jobs.
“The same research, however, also indicates that those perceptions can be overcome through exposure to age-appropriate information and “hands on” experiences.”
–Captain Jennifer Roman of the Madison (WI) Fire Department and one of the founders of CampHero.
When Captain Roman joined the Madison Fire Department in 1988, women accounted for 15 percent of the total firefighters on the job in that department. Since then, that percentage has dropped to 11% (Nationally, women account for approximately 3 percent of the firefighter population in the USA, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.)
“As I had conversations with my female colleagues in Madison, and around the country, we agonized over this downward trend. We saw time and energy being devoted to recruitment efforts targeting women that were not being successful at attracting young women to our profession, a profession that we all loved.”
Roman, who earned her Master’s Degree from the University of Wisconsin, decided to delve into the world of research to see what she could find that might help develop a better approach at informing and educating girls and young women about career opportunities in the fire service. What she learned was:
- Before they even enter the school system, girls and boys already have been “socialized” by society as to what men and women can or cannot do.
- These perceptions by young girls can be overcome in their middle school years through well-designed “hands on” exposure to real world job tasks.
- The perceptions of high school age girls can be positively influenced through “face-to-face” interactions with strong role models.
With that information in hand, Captain Roman and her colleagues began work in 2011 to develop the framework for CampHERO. They partnered with their law enforcement and EMS colleagues in Madison to develop a camp for girls that would use age-appropriate learning experiences to “open their eyes” to fulfilling career opportunities available to them in the world of protective services (fire, law enforcement, and EMS).
For technical expertise in developing the camp’s objectives, Roman and her cohorts consulted with the subject matter experts in the field of leadership for girls, the Girl Scouts of America. Together, they developed the age-appropriate learning objectives and professional quality lesson plans for camp leaders to use with different age groups of campers (Grades K-1, Grades 2nd-3rd, Grades 4th-5th, Grades 6th-8th, and Grades 9th-12th ).
CampHERO welcomed its first group of girl campers in 2012. CampHERO has 190 total camper positions available based upon the available personnel for camp leader positions and physical facilities in the Madison area. That first year saw 75 percent of the K-1st grade slots and 100 percent of the 2nd through 8th grade slots filled. The 9th through 12th grade sessions had four participants in that first year and seven the following year. CampHERO 2013 saw a 40 percent return rate from the previous year’s attendees.
Roman attributes CampHERO’s early success to several factors. “We make it fun. We have the structure and guidance from the experience of
the Girl Scouts in working with girls. And we have the most dedicated and passionate group of camp leaders and sponsors from across all of the protective services in Madison and the community,” said Roman.
“We really try to focus on changing their perceptions about what girls can do in life, whether that’s in protective services or any other endeavour as they grow up,” said Roman. “I go back to the research. If society at large can have an influence on how girls think about their roles growing up, then perhaps we can become a positive force through CampHERO in shaping their perceptions about women in the protective services.”
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What a great program, no? If you know of other camps or programs that are designed to get girls and boys interested in a career in Fire and EMS, contact me and perhaps I can feature that program in a future blog post.