Summer camp hero

After teaching for nine months, Alex Kelly spends summers as a camp counselor. He loves it and so do the kids.

Alex Kelly loves being around children during the school year and in summer, when he works as a middle school teacher and a YMCA senior camp counselor in Saukville. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

The last day of the school year doesn’t mean teacher Alex Kelly gets a break from children.

He doesn’t want one.

The seventh and eighth-grade science teacher at Cedar Grove-Belgium Middle School goes right into his summer job as senior camp counselor at the Feith Family YMCA day camp.

It’s another nine hours per day, four days per week of interaction with and education of children for the 26-year-old Kelly, who is in his third year with the YMCA. He spent one year with the summer camp at John Long Middle School in

Grafton before moving to the YMCA in Saukville.

Kelly is from Palmyra, where his mother is an accountant and his father works for the Village of Palmyra.

Kelly majored in kinesiology at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and in his fourth year decided he wanted to teach.

He took 29 credits in his final semester to finish his major and earn a teaching certification.

He student-taught biology and physics with an emergency teaching license at the Milwaukee Academy of Science before coming to Cedar Grove-Belgium.

He was already a member at the YMCA and knew about the summer camp program.

Each day starts at 9 a.m. with opening ceremonies and a snack for 60 to 70 youngsters who range in age from 5 to 12. Counselors explain the plan for the week and remind children which days they will go swimming before they break into groups by age.

Kelly heads up the 7 and 8-year-olds, his favorite age to lead at camp.

“They are just all gas for any activity possible,” he said. “They’re just all smiles and go with the flow.”

Kelly also enjoys the smaller ratio of counselors to children — about eight to one — compared to the classroom. With a smaller group, he said, “kids are more engaged.”

At first, Kelly was a novelty.

“The kids get excited when they get a new counselor,” he said.

No matter the age or size of the group, Kelly employs a strategy to keep children interested.

“Once you kind of build expectations, they like structure,” he said.

Time is dedicated each day for counselor-led activities, along with a variety of sports and theme-related educational fun.

This summer, campers are taking part  in archery and fishing, outdoor discovery with a map and a compass, art projects, water games, hiking and building structures with a variety of materials.

They will also be taught what it takes to be ninja warriors and Jedis, the basics of theater and filmmaking, how to create a bake sale and lemonade stand — they’ll even sell their goodies with profits going to the YMCA Scholarship Fund — and swim, bike and run to train for a kids’ triathlon.

Games run the gamut from egg toss to capture the flag.

Field trips are taken to state and county parks and — the campers’ favorite — the Milwaukee County Zoo.

The activities aren’t the only things that provide variety.

“Every day is unique. Kids have different energy levels each day,” Kelly said.

Regardless if they’re in school or at camp, children are mostly seeking the same things.

“The kids really want someone to be their friend,” Kelly said. “Kids love being able to talk to someone. They are very caring and open people.”

The counselors connect with as many as they can.

“Every kid has a unique relationship with at least one counselor,” Kelly said.

Campers stay outside the entire time if weather allows. That’s Kelly’s favorite part since he loves sports. He coaches eighth-grade basketball, bikes and works out in his free time, in addition to spending time with his family in Whitewater.

The Covid-19 pandemic has added some elements to camp. Children’s temperatures are taken each morning, snacks are served with gloves, hand washing is done regularly, tables are washed and sanitized before and after eating and equipment is sanitized after use.

The children, Kelly said, were happy when the mask-wearing requirement was lifted. He was thrilled when camp started last summer and he didn’t have to work from home anymore.

Now as a senior camp counselor, Kelly helps new counselors create activities, which is just like lesson planning, he said.

“We’re really good at sharing ideas with each other,” Kelly said.

At 3 p.m. each day, closing ceremonies are held, but some children stay after 3, and some arrive before 9 a.m. The YMCA offers before and after care from 6 to 9 a.m. and 3 to 6 p.m.

During those times, Kelly said, four square, Legos and board games keep children occupied.

He works 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. four days per week and stays each day to work out, which fits into his schedule well. His fiance works nights as a nurse at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.

“While I don’t have kids, I should keep working during summer,” he said.

The couple live in Grafton but are moving to Fredonia, where her family lives.

Camp starts immediately after school ends and runs until the end of August, a sad day for the counselors who have to say goodbye to the children for at least another nine months.

For Kelly, the camp is more than another chance to spend time with children and make money during summer.

“Anytime you’re working with kids, it’s your own professional development,” he said.

Just like the teachers he had growing up, Kelly tries “building positive relationships.”

For more information on the YMCA summer day camp program, visit



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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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Port Washington, WI 53074
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