BUFFALO, N.Y. -- For Tim Boling, July is an important time of
year. For the next five weeks, he will have 800 schoolchildren on
his hands, a thought that would cause the average adult to become
wide-eyed and hyperventilate into a brown paper bag.
Boling, though, is not anxious; in fact, he is looking forward
to it. For these few weeks every summer, he is among the privileged
few with the opportunity to witness something remarkable.
Boling is the CEO of Cradle Beach, a nonprofit organization
located along the shore of Lake Erie. He orchestrates the summer
camp held there, a destination that has welcomed disadvantaged
youth and children with special needs from the surrounding area for
Here is what makes the camp extraordinary: It's the only camp in
the country bringing both groups of children together at the same
time. This integration -- as many camp graduates would tell you--
has changed many lives. An effect Boling believes may be
"When you bring children together with over 100 counselors who
love working with children, a magical life-changing experience
takes place," says Boling.
Unique to their program, past campers build strong bonds with
those who have special needs and often pursue careers that involve
The scientific community, however, seldom supports presumptions
based on magic. This is where faculty and students in the
Department of Counseling School and Educational Psychology (CSEP)
in the UB Graduate School of Education enter the picture.
Backed by funding from Cradle Beach and the GSE Dean's Office,
UB faculty and students are on a mission to put numbers behind the
magic. Over the next few years, these researchers hope to find
tangible proof that supports the praises of the program given by
former campers, parents and counselors.
"They refer to it as magic in part because they're not sure what
it is," says Timothy Janikowski, associate professor and chair of
CSEP. "Tim Boling was looking to identify and describe what it is
about the Cradle Beach experience that helped many of their campers
transform their lives."
In the past year, UB faculty administered surveys to hundreds of
children ages 8 to 16, omitting only those with cognitive
disabilities. Each survey consisted of simply one question: "A kid
should come to Cradle Beach because…?"
The children supplied the faculty with hundreds of responses
that were boiled down to 100 unique statements. They later asked
the campers to group together these responses and rate them based
Of all the different statement groups, those relating to social
skills and responsibility were the most important. Surprisingly,
"fun" was rated the least.
Abiola Dipeolu, a research assistant professor in CSEP who
specializes in vocational psychology, believes the children's
responses follow their social development.
"When kids with disabilities come into society, they are often
sheltered from a lot of us, so we don't know how to act around
them," says Dipeolu. "This results in an attitudinal barrier
between them and society. By improving the kids' attitude, the camp
is removing a huge barrier out of their way, setting them up to
succeed later in life."
After all of the data was gathered, UB faculty used concept
mapping, software that creates a visual picture of the answers and
ranks the frequency of the responses.
The innovative software leads to what Janikowski calls a
"merging of language and data."
Funding for the research paid for software licenses, as well as
a three-day training class for faculty and students. The research
also marks the first time concept mapping has been used with
children as young as 8 years old.
James Donnelly, former UB faculty member who now serves as
director of research at Hospice Buffalo, offered his
concept-mapping expertise to the project. Other UB faculty involved
in the study are Catherine Cook-Cottone, Gloria Lee and Amy
Reynolds, all associate professors in the CSEP.
Much of the faculty's work included staying on top of the
workload. They praised the work of several UB students, including
Elliot Zimpfer, a graduate student in mental health counseling;
Carolyn Cormier, a sophomore psychology major; Jennifer Schuard, a
student in mental housing counseling and counseling psychology; and
Marvin Lalin, a senior psychology and business major.
There is still much to be done. The research will continue for
another two to three years. The next phase: collect data from staff
The workload may seem daunting, but the children drive the
faculty to keep going.
"This is not highly funded; we're not going after a lot of grant
money to buy out of teaching time or to pay for a far-flung
research effort. There's a lot of time and effort picked up by the
faculty," says Janikowski. "But we hope results will help other
camps and similar kinds of organizations get a better sense of how
to make their experiences more meaningful and impactful."