Exploring Summer Magic at St. Andrew’s Sewanee

by | Mar 2024

WHEN ENVISIONING summer camp, what image comes to mind? Is it the smell of the half-burnt marshmallows perched atop the bonfire, yearning to unite with graham crackers and chocolate Hershey bars? Is it the shrieks of laughter, physical activity, and the burst of excitement stemming from lively field games with newfound friends? Or, perhaps it’s the warm camaraderie of the camp staff that beckons you to return year after year. Resting on 550 acres of land, St. Andrew’s Sewanee hosts diverse camps for local and nationwide youth. Step into a sanctuary of summer activities such as meandering hiking trails, thrilling sports, arts and crafts, American Sign Language classes, and more for a “better-than-camp” experience. People revere the camp’s surroundings as one of the most beautiful attractions in the southeast, creating an idyllic location for adventure. 

Elizabeth Duncan, the director of the day camp at St. Andrew’s Sewanee, has worked at St. Andrew’s Sewanee since 2002. Formerly the director of alumni for 17 years, she transitioned to director of auxiliary programs, overseeing all summer programming in 2019. With vigor for education, youth development, the outdoors, and building programs, she is the perfect architect of the camp experience. 

“I have an education degree, and I love kids, and I love the outdoors. And I love summer. I love building programs, and I love organizational stuff. So it’s a perfect fit for me,” Duncan said. 

Duncan not only directs the camp, but she also collaborates with youth, encouraging them to shape their camp schedules based on their unique interests. 

“They get to create their own schedule, which is really nice. And it ebbs and flows with what we offer them, so when they register, we ask them to give us their top six interests. After people start registering, I start looking to see if I can create a class because if I have five kids interested in one thing, I’ll go out and find an instructor for that for the morning session,” she added. 

The children reside in air-conditioned dorms with common rooms and washers and dryers. They enjoy nice warm meals in a fabulous dining hall, which Duncan playfully likens to Hogwarts from the “Harry Potter” franchise. 

Afternoons at the camp are reserved for adventures. 

“We’ll go to local waterfalls, camping, or caving. We have a beautiful lake where we swim in [with a rock to jump off]. So they swim just about every day.” 

As the sun sets and the evening dawns, the children enjoy individual or group activities, ranging from Dungeons and Dragons to arts and crafts or open gym volleyball. 

Evenings gather the entire camp to participate in one big activity before the youth head back to their dorms. One of the more popular games is Sardines. 

The group activities are tailored to age appropriateness, accommodating 14 and 15-year-olds, with distinct programs for 18-year-olds. 

Duncan describes St. Andrew’s Sewanee’s day camp as a great camp for first-time campers. St. Andrew’s Sewanee camps are ideal for first-time campers around 11 and 12 years old who have never been away from home. The intimacy of the camp aids them in building strong connections without becoming overwhelmed. 

“They are building relationships and bonds, which is what you do on campus. They carry those relationships with them throughout their life, in addition to their school relationships. Relationships are really key to me.” 

Aside from gaining new friendships and enjoying their summer away from home, children leave camp armed with unforgettable experiences and friendships that last a lifetime. 

“I love seeing kids come to these camps, especially from different urban areas. They get to see the stars for the first time at night. They get to jump off a rock into our lake. They’re doing things that they’ve never been able to do before. I love to see them try new things. And that’s what we’re about as a school, too — opening up the doors for you. You do not have to try out to be on a sports team. If you want to play a sport, you’re on the team, and you’ll get some play time regardless.” 

The camp, much like its surroundings, is a haven for exploration and personal growth. GN

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