Sherman Lake YMCA

Integrated Education Philosophy


The Sherman Lake YMCA Outdoor Center strengthens the spirit, mind and body while instilling an appreciation of our natural environment.

The main emphasis in all camping activities is on teaching, role-modeling and reinforcing Honesty, Caring, Respect and Responsibility. School programs, at Sherman Lake YMCA, give school districts the opportunity to provide their students with a day or residential camp experience with an emphasis on personal growth and building healthy relationships.

The longer the stay, the more profound the transference of the camp experience on classroom behavior. The school programs are called "Integrated Education" because school curriculum is integrated with the best of the YMCA's character development programs and research from the Search Institute's, 40 Developmental Assets. This program combines emotional intelligence and social skills to foster an aptitude and attitude for constructive accomplishment. The Integrated Education program currently serves approximately 3,000 students from nearly 40 schools in Michigan.

Students can expect to:
  • Have strong adult role models as counselors who conduct themselves in an honest, caring, respectful and responsible manner.
  • Participate in activities that challenge them to work hard, yet emphasize choices and teamwork.
  • Sleep in cabins that are carpeted, have skylights, and bathrooms.
  • Eat nutritious, kid-friendly food in Kellogg Hall prepared by dining staff who love to give as many hugs as meals.

For more Information: Please call 269-731-3030 or email Lorrie Syverson at lorries@ymcasl.org.


Grade Level Curriculum

  • Integrating Character Development (Elementary School)

  • Character Development and Transition Leadership Skills (Middle School)

  • Integrating Character Development with Leadership (High School)

  • Character Education Internships (College)

A comprehensive program may be developed in partnership with the school to provide different grade appropriate experiences. Students will learn about honesty, caring, respect, and responsibility in an asset-rich environment. Students will learn how to apply these cornerstone values to life situations.

Desired outcomes include students having more self-awareness, compassion towards others, problem solving skills, relationship growth between fellow students and staff, showing more responsibility, increased sense of community teambuilding, enhanced group dynamics and improved student attitude, behavior and involvement. Experiential learning activities will promote managing feelings and self-talk, improved critical thinking skills, decision-making, handling stress, communications, conflict resolution, nature and arts appreciation, and citizenship. The experience may culminate with the training of high school students to help provide the leadership for the elementary and middle school programs. Groups of all ages may have the opportunity to participate in this progressive program.

The most recent development of this program has been a new and innovative partnership with Olivet College. Olivet College has recognized the value of the teacher training aspect of the Integrated Education program to the extent that they have restructured the student teaching intern program to allow half of the intern experience to occur as an intern at the Sherman Lake YMCA Integrated Education program. The student intern teachers gain valuable experiential training in the soft skills needed to be an effective teacher. These opportunities are not always available in the traditional student teacher training. Student teachers are excited about the possibility of practicing classroom management and student relationship building skills before they step into their own classroom for the very first time; self admittedly their most major concern. The student teacher interns provide the role modeling in the activity areas and cabins while the students stay at camp. Student teacher interns also prepare lesson plans that integrate character education best practices within the subject matter, a valuable skill as they venture into their first classroom experience. This is the first incidence of this type of training that we are aware of in the United States.

For more Information: Please call 269-731-3030 or email Lorrie Syverson at lorries@ymcasl.org.

Partnerships between Schools and the Sherman Lake YMCA 'Integrated Education' Program

Integrated Education is a true partnership between the school, surrounding community, and the Sherman Lake YMCA. The relationship begins with the Sherman Lake YMCA asking the schools, "If you owned a $20 million outdoor center, how would you best serve your students?" This creates a dynamic program that is guaranteed to serve the unique needs of each individual school system.

This is accomplished by:

  • Honoring the requests of the school administrators, parents, teachers and students.
  • Adapting Sherman Lake program elements to better serve each school system.
  • Pre and post meetings in the school for administrators, teachers, parents and students.
  • Listening and responding according to the principles of Servant Leadership.
  • Involving the community to help fund and promote the experience.
  • Providing a broad range of program activities to allow for choice in the school curriculum.

Integrated Education integrates the best of the Sherman Lake YMCA character development program, and the Search Institute's 40 Developmental Assets with the current school curriculum. Through a series of planning meetings, the school personnel work with the Sherman Lake staff to design a curriculum that combines elements of teaching the four camp principles within the chosen school curriculum. Each school discusses their preferences, and Sherman Lake can adapt the experiential activities to meet the schools needs. The Sherman Lake YMCA folds the four principles of Honesty, Caring, Respect and Responsibility into everything we do.

This is accomplished by:

  • Using and role modeling the four principles in every moment of the Sherman Lake experience.
  • Understanding that character is who you are when no one else is watching.
  • Inspiring and empowering individuals from within to make great decisions.
  • Teaching an understanding that thoughts become beliefs, beliefs become behaviors, and behaviors become your character. Understanding how to develop great character through your belief system and thought processes.
  • Guiding students in decision making skills and encouraging independent choices.
  • Where you focus is where you go!

Integrated Education targets the concepts of Emotional Intelligence and the Search Institute's 40 Developmental Assets in everything that happens during the Sherman Lake YMCA experience. Teachers frequently ask for help in assisting students to understand and practice the tangible aspects of respect and responsibility.

This is accomplished by:

  • Modeling and teaching behaviors that demonstrate respect for oneself, each other, teachers and other adults by utilizing specific examples of tangible thoughts, beliefs and behaviors.
  • Helping kids to assume responsibility for the choices that they make and being honest about the outcomes of their choices.
  • Educating and promoting an understanding of each individual's comfort zone, learning zone, and panic zone.
  • Providing progressive opportunities.
  • Translating every lesson into practical applications for the classroom and life choices.
  • Promoting clean cabins, table manners, the use of "please" and "thank-you" and all other accepted etiquette lessons.
  • Setting up the path analogy that promotes safety and the use of honesty, caring, respect and responsibility in all aspects of life experiences. Use of the path allows each individual to experience responsibility in all aspects of life experiences. Use of the path allows each individual to experience Sherman Lake in a way that promotes the most learning.
  • Debriefing each activity with a discussion of what was learned and what ways we will apply the lessons.
  • Providing bed-time rituals that consist of quiet time and reflection of the day's learning.

Integrated Education provides the opportunity for teachers and students to learn and develop the skills needed to build healthy relationships. Most importantly, students and teachers develop these relationships in a safe, beautiful setting that is away from the classroom. It is a key opportunity for growth both for children who thrive at school and for those who struggle. Talented students develop their abilities to cooperate and share in a community where they don't worry about grades and academic competition. Children whose school lives are difficult find real rewards in new opportunities to shine.

This is accomplished by:

  • Involving parents, teachers and administrators in aspects of the program to solidify and reinforce the lessons learned.
  • Freeing the teachers from direct responsibilities to relate to students on an individual basis.
  • Using Community Commitment Checks to guide students in all aspects of creating healthy communities. The Community Commitment addresses acceptable behaviors, which are the focus for the group, and unacceptable behaviors that we want to avoid.
  • Setting high standards and guiding students to meet those standards.
  • Teaching all elements of teamwork and cooperation.
  • Providing staff to reinforce the lessons learned in a consistent manner that includes the use of rituals and community commitment checks.

Integrated Education provides an opportunity for programs that educate the mind, recreational programs to strengthen the body and Character Development programs to enhance the spirit.

This is accomplished by:

  • Working collaboratively to train the Sherman Lake YMCA staff to offer the highest quality school curriculum that educates and elevates all students.
  • Allowing time for free choice and recreation time.
  • Designing spiritual inspirations that enhance the development of a person's character while fully respecting the diversity of religious and spiritual beliefs.

For more Information: Please call 269-731-3030 or email Lorrie Syverson at lorries@ymcasl.org.

School Particpation Guidelines and Expectations

  • One day, half week (M-Wam or Wpm-F), or one week (M-F) experiences are available for students at Sherman Lake YMCA Outdoor Center.
  • A school representative must be present on camp during the entire stay.
  • Current group size for Intermediate and Middle School programs is about 100 students at a time.
  • Two (pre-camp and post-camp) experiences led by YMCA Staff that take place in the participating school.
  • Sherman Lake YMCA staff is available for parent and teacher meetings or other meetings deemed necessary by the school district.
  • Sherman Lake YMCA staff will provide overnight counselor training sessions for your overnight volunteers if that is part of the school program for the school.
  • Integrating character in the classroom ideas will be provided to the teachers by the Sherman Lake YMCA Staff during their stay at camp.

For more Information: Please call 269-731-3030 or email Lorrie Syverson at lorries@ymcasl.org.

Sherman Lake YMCA Staff

The Sherman Lake YMCA is committed to providing high quality, seasoned camp staff to lead this cornerstone program. A core staff of 7 full-time camp professionals take the lead in this endeavor. They are supplemented by local student interns who are completing their college education in the teaching, recreation, public administration and other related fields and through a partnership with Americorps*NCCC, teams of core members, who receive comprehensive training from Sherman Lake staff, also provide support to this program. We try to maintain an "international flair", by working with the International Camp Counselor Program of the YMCA to provide highly qualified and pre-selected international staff to provide support services to our IE program. All staff are screened with background checks and undergo a rigorous interview and evaluation process. Safety is our number 1 priority. All of our staff at Sherman Lake are hired based on their ability to role model Honesty, Caring, Respect and Responsibility.

Leadership in the program consists of:

Luke Austenfeld, Executive Director of the Sherman Lake YMCA Outdoor Center since its inception twelve years ago, has a Bachelor of Science in Education from Emporia State University. He taught in public schools for six years and he has a Masters in Non Profit Leadership and Management from Springfield College. He has been Executive Director at YMCA Camp Wood in Elmdale, Kansas, YMCA Camp Jones Gulch in the Redwood Forests of California and at the Sherman Lake YMCA. Over the last 25 years he has had over 100,000 children come under his watch. Luke was a member of the committee that brought forth the core values of Honesty, Caring, Respect and Responsibility as a national movement in YMCA of the USA in 1994.

Lorrie Syverson, has been Director of Camping, Education and Retreat Services at Sherman Lake since January 2003. Lorrie started at Sherman Lake in 1997 and in 1999 she was responsible for starting the Retreat Services branch at the Sherman Lake YMCA. Lorrie is a proud mother of two grown children and a long-time school volunteer. She is originally from Minnesota and she has a 20 year administrative background at numerous universities including the University of Minnesota, University of California, San Diego, University of Rhode Island and Pacific University in Oregon.

Karen Stanley, Associate Camp Director is new to the Sherman Lake YMCA full time staff.  She brings with her a wealth of knowledge in the area of YMCA camping.  She has served at several top YMCA camping programs over the past 7 years.  She has a degree in Recreation Management from the University of WIsconsin, LaCrosse.

Tromondae Beck, Program Director and University Liaison, has a degree in education from the University of Michigan, Flint.  He began his career with the Sherman Lake YMCA as a summer camp counselor, returning each  summer to our resident camp program since 2006.  He is a strong role model and an advocate for HCRR.

Emily Briggs, Program Director and Experiential Coordinator earned her bachelors degree at Olivet College.  She began as a summer camp counselor in the High School Leadership program at the Sherman Lake YMCA and continued on to complete an internship program at the recreation center.  Her main area of focus was in fitness.  She brings her sense of excitement and challenge to the forefront when working with groups.

Josiah (Si) Swartz, Program Director earned his bachelors degree at Hillsdale College where he was active on the football field.  Si also leads the high school leadership development program.  His sense of service leadership and strong character background sets a high bar for students to reach.  He also began his Sherman Lake YMCA experience as a camp counselor.

A talented seasonal staff comprised of those with degrees in education, recreation and other fields serve as activity leaders and cabin counselors.  These individuals serve as positive adult role models and participate in a rigorous training prior to the start of each new season.  They are all screened through local, state and national agencies to ensure the proper background. 


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