Bloomfield College’s C.H.A.M.P.S. (Coaching Habits for African-American Male Students to Promote Success) program recently held its first student leadership weekend retreat at YMCA Camp Mason, Hardwick Township, New Jersey. The program, funded by the College’s new PBI Competitive Grant from the U.S. Department of Education, awarded in October 2021, was co-facilitated by Paradigm Shift, a highly respected student leadership and educator development company.
According to Luis Guerra, Bloomfield College PBI C Grant Director, despite a weekend of pouring rain, the ten male Bloomfield College students in attendance, along with their College faculty and staff chaperones, didn’t miss participating in any of the adventure-based activities designed for the students to grow their leadership acumen while learning how to effectively work with others as they built camaraderie.
“The rain actually seemed to elevate the experience,” said Guerra, who served as the lead chaperone and facilitator on the retreat. “It added to the degree of difficulty, especially while learning axe throwing in what soon became a messy pit of mud. Students gave each other verbal affirmations to support one another. This helped bond everyone rather quickly, as all were in the same boat with the added challenge of rain during the outdoor activities. The laughter and subsequent bonding that took place helped make everyone comfortable in tackling a myriad of activities that, for most, were first time experiences.”
A vertical playpen obstacle course was a good training ground for the importance of teamwork, said Guerra. “The students were directed to team up and work together, or compete, to complete the obstacle course. The students embraced working together. A good part of the lessons learned during the weekend included the realization that everyone wins when you collaborate and support one another versus competing,” he said. “With so many first-time activities, the students eagerly encouraged one another as they learned archery, axe throwing and zip lining. They also learned that while trying something new can be scary, once you do it that first time, the second time is much easier.”
For zip lining, encouragement from their peers was especially meaningful to those students who had a fear of heights, recounted Guerra. Many of those students participated, and some conquered their fears and went for a second ride, he said.
Morning and evening journaling and downtime conversation were at the heart of the weekend, further imprinting what was learned during the leadership development activities. Additional learning was manifested through communications-style games, indoor fireplace and outdoor bonfire conversations at the end of each night, and precision activities that taught the students that, often times, speed in accomplishing a task does not lead to the best outcome.
“The instructions for a build-a-perfect-deck-of-cards activity was not time-based, and it was the team who took the longest that was successful. This was a great lesson in doing things with care and the importance of paying attention to all the details when charged with a task,” said Guerra.
Creative adventure was also at hand with an eco-art activity where the students searched the campground for items they could use to create art. According to Guerra, the eco-art activity brought out some of the most inspired conversations, as students explained their thought processes in creating their work of art.
“The weekend was a great success. This group of young men now have new friends on campus and have bonded with additional College faculty and staff who they know they can come to talk with and seek advice as they continue their studies and college experience,” said Guerra.
A campus call by Guerra for faculty and staff volunteer chaperones was answered by Nixon Cleophat, Ph.D., coordinator of First Year Seminar and coordinator of Religion/Philosophy; Arturo Fernandez, admission counselor; and Brian Kong, computer science adjunct professor.
While African-American male students are the focus of the C.H.A.M.P.S. program designed to improve their academic success, retention rates, and graduation rates—as well as prepare them for their future professions—there are opportunities for every student enrolled at Bloomfield College who is not already a part of another grant-funded program to participate in C.H.A.M.P.S. programming.
Through the PBI C Grant, Bloomfield College has contracted with Paradigm Shift as co-facilitators to provide a total of eight leadership workshops and one annual retreat each year for C.H.A.M.P.S. program participants. Paradigm Shift uses practical, experiential, research supported and adventure-based models to help student leaders develop important skills through workshop topics that focus on self-discovery, college readiness and career exploration.