Blog: Bright Ideas

Chicago Director Tajalli Horvat On Summer Camp, Our New Northbrook Location and Galileo in 2018

Tajalli Horvat

Tajalli Horvat’s kindergarten-aged daughter returned home from the final day of her week-long session at Galileo’s Chicago day camp using a new vocabulary. Terms such as “visionary” and “courageous” were now part of her lexicon. This shift was quite noticeable in other areas too—such as her new habit of accepting and learning from her failures, and growing from them. A longtime Galileo employee, Tajalli regularly hears many anecdotes from campers’ parents, but it was especially thrilling to see this positive change in her own child.

Galileo just recently expanded into the midwest—we opened camps in Chicagoland in the summer of 2016. This marked the company’s first expansion beyond the state of California and a very exciting time, as Chicagoland families discover all that Galileo has to offer. Tajalli Horvat heads up our camp’s operations in the midwest, working alongside colleagues including Area Director (and fellow Chicago native) Jeremy Viland-Rose to oversee everything from local recruiting, marketing and development efforts, to field operations and beyond.

Tajalli became Galileo’s first full-time employee in 2002 and since then, she has made many contributions to our company and day camp programs. She brings immeasurable experience to Galileo, as she helped establish SCORE! Educational Centers in Chicago, opened and ran tutoring centers and served as the national marketing manager for SCORE! It was during her time working for them in San Francisco that she met Glen Tripp, Galileo’s founder—a man who had an inspiring vision of how he wanted to transform and enrich the lives of youth and the educational landscape. He identified summertime as the ideal window of opportunity to complement what kids learn during the school year, and so set out to create a dynamic new experience with a mission of helping kids become creative, fearless innovators. The end result was Galileo, a unique program that gives kids a chance to explore their interests in a fun, engaging and nurturing environment.

On Galileo’s Roots

Tajalli explains that it was Tripp’s vision that originally motivated her to join the staff at Galileo, and it’s the founder’s continued enthusiasm—combined with the company's’ unique mission, integrity, culture and growth—that has made her job so fulfilling. Galileo’s 2016 expansion to the Chicagoland region coincided perfectly with Tajalli’s desire to return to her hometown, and so she ventured east to help pave the way for Galileo’s Chicago debut. Since then, she has overseen the addition of nine new locations since 2016 and is excited to announce 2018’s newest Camp Galileo locations—the Solomon Schechter Day School in Northbrook and Whitney Young High School in West Loop. These locations will cater to pre-K through 5th grades, and Tajalli is “so excited to partner with with these schools to serve families in the community.” This school is a perfect fit for Galileo’s ethos and furthers our goal of providing a fun and educational camp experience within five miles of any given Chicagoland child’s home.

So how does Galileo decide which schools will serve as camp locations? We look for a school that is highly respected, with a convenient location, and sufficient, attractive spaces both indoors and outside. Air conditioning is definitely a perk (we all know how fun it can be to battle Chicago’s summer heat!). In addition to considering a school’s physical suitability, the program specifically seeks out institutions that believe in Galileo’s mission and share the same core values. “Our purpose is to help kids become innovators,” Tajalli stresses.

On Galileo’s Mission

Galileo’s emphasis on innovation and design results in our camps being places where children explore the unknown, make mistakes, and then analyze and reflect upon those mistakes so they can leverage that insight in the future. With its different programs—Camp Galileo and Galileo Summer Quest—Galileo offers pre-K through 8th graders a “blend of traditional day camp culture and an engaging learning experience with design thinking and project-based learning.”

It’s a deliberate formula that leads to success. As Tajalli explains, “Lots of camp programs focus exclusively on knowledge and learning, but at Galileo, that’s just one part of the equation. We strive to develop that innovator’s mindset and process, nurturing kids in several areas, while ensuring it’s social, fun and engaging. After all, that’s what summer is all about—fun, socialization and exploration.” There’s a tremendous emphasis on not only the curriculum, but the camp experience as a whole. Campers participate in opening and closing ceremonies, all-camp games, themed dress up days and more.  

On Galileo’s Staff

A large part of Galileo’s fun, supportive environment comes down to the people. From full-time employees like Tajalli to our first-year counselors, we pride ourselves on our staff. We meticulously interview and train each staff member, ensuring that only the best and most passionate candidates work with our campers. It’s this strategy that allows our programs to make the most of the carefully architected curriculum.

Galileo places great emphasis on hiring the right team. As Tajalli sees it, “Galileo’s secret sauce is the staff. Ultimately, if you don’t have great staff, It doesn’t matter how good the curriculum is. We continuously focus on hiring great people who will support and engage the campers. They must be passionate about working with kids.” Most of Galileo’s team members have an education-related background, such as teachers, after-school educators and college students who are pursuing a degree in education, and every lead instructor working with Galileo’s campers is a college graduate.

Camp Galileo Stars at camp.

On Galileo’s Summer Program for Kids

Many Chicago summer camps span four or even eight weeks, which can be challenging for families who are planning other summer activities, such as travel. This makes Galileo summer camps’ one-week sessions particularly appealing. Programs run from 9 am – 3 pm daily, with extended care from 8-9 am and 3-6 pm, optional lunch, and available financial assistance. While a minimum of four weeks is recommended for the best possible summer camp experience, it’s possible to attend however many fit in your schedule, and your kid can even attend non-consecutive week-long sessions, allowing for greater flexibility when planning for the summer. Galileo’s program is architected to foster growth over the long-term—coming back for several weeks, attending year after year, can strengthen and expand the skills and understanding, cementing campers as lifelong innovators.

“We consider our program to be part specialty camp and part enrichment. It’s not just sitting in a classroom and performing experiments. These kids are having fun!” Unlike camps that target athletes or dedicated scholars, all kids can enjoy and benefit from Galileo. As Tajalli sees it, “Galileo’s curriculum is really for all kids—not just children who are interested in science and computers. All kids need to develop into innovators, so we have physical activities as well as art activities, science and engineering projects.” Galileo aims to engage the child as a whole, mentally, physically and socially.

So what can you expect when your child arrives for their summer camp experience? Well, each session is different, which is ideal for children who opt to attend multiple weeks. For our pre-kindergarten through 5th graders at Camp Galileo, our full-time curriculum development team has worked year-round to create a program that’s based around four fun themes. Upcoming Summer 2018 themes are “The Incredible Human Body,” “Space Explorers,” “Road Trip Adventure” and “Galileo Makers.” 5th through 8th graders get to explore the “majors” of their choice, ranging from “Chefology” to “Catapult Builders” to “YouTubeⓇ Producers.” Your kids can delve into a single topic over a week, or they can choose to explore multiple different themes or majors over the entire summer. In addition to a thematic exploration, our program also promotes the innovator’s process in which students learn to test, evaluate, and redesign based on their findings.

Tajalli Horvat and her family after camp.

Tajalli saw the results of this approach in her own children following their time at Galileo, but she’s far from alone. She remembers a particular email she received from the mother of a camper who spent two weeks at one of Galileo’s Chicago camps this past summer. He was a smart kid who was constantly bored and in need of stimulation who evolved into an innovative child with a can-do attitude and the motivation to seek out engaging activities and projects. The mother’s email expressed how her son went from offering generic, halfhearted answers when asked about his day to providing enthusiastic, detailed replies about the day’s activities. “He was practically bursting with excitement, and that enthusiasm was carrying over into other areas of his life, too,” Tajalli reminisces. It’s a consistent story for the rest of the over 50,000 campers Galileo has served, and Tajalli loves seeing the results.

Tajalli’s children entered kindergarten and the 3rd grade this fall, and she credits Galileo with cultivating in them an excitement for learning and a determination to navigate and learn from challenges. While other parents were worried about their child’s transition into kindergarten, Tajalli’s daughter was very prepared for the switch—something that she attributes to her experiences at camp. “Starting school can represent a big change, but Galileo can really help with that transition. Campers spend the summer with a nurturing staff, they engage with hands-on art and science activities designed specifically for early learners, they build teamwork skills through outdoor activities and games and they have fun with new friends at our kinder-only destination, Nebula Land.”

For parents who are still on the fence about enrolling their child at one of Galileo’s Chicago summer camps, Tajalli has this to say: “We'd love the opportunity to have your child attend Galileo this summer. You and your child will experience what makes Galileo so special from the moment you arrive to the very last day. Our staff and program are incredible, and you'll not only provide your child with a great summer camp experience, but you will be investing in helping them develop in ways that will support them for the rest of their life.”

While it feels like summer concluded just a few weeks ago, many Chicago parents are already planning for summer of 2018. Registration is open and we invite you to join our mailing list to receive the latest Galileo news, program offerings and promotions. Many sessions book up quickly, so we encourage parents to sign up as soon as those summer plans are solidified. Whether it’s one week-long session or several, you can go into the summer knowing that it will be both fun and transformative for your child. Questions? Contact Galileo today to learn more about our Chicago summer camp program.