As we approach the beginning of summer, we start to fantasize about trips to the beach, cookouts with family and friends, 4th of July fireworks and fun times at local pools. Another must in summer is camps for our children!
Every year, parents joyously make summer camp plans, travelling to different stores looking for bathing suits, wet shoes, camping gear or other equipment to make our children’s camp experience fulfilling. This year, enthusiasm has been replaced by concern, and rightfully so.
This has been a year unlike any other, ushering in the novel virus COVID-19, which caused retail stores, businesses and schools to close buildings in order to stop the virus from spreading. Because of new rules in place to keep the public safe, schools, educational centers, county recreation centers and private organizations have had to modify their approach to summer camps and determine the safest way to offer quality programming in a way that complies with federal and state health guidelines.
Changes in rules pertaining to public gatherings have made parents unsure of how the summer camp environment will look. How will they prepare? Will they get a refund of fees for summer camps that are cancelled? Will their children experience camp from home through virtual environments, similar to the online distance learning provided by schools?
The American Camp Association (ACA), the central entity in charge of standards and guidance for camp facilities, has made it clear it cannot issue a statement to require camp facilities to operate in specific ways because it is not a health organization. As stated on its website, “Every camp is different and will ultimately assess their ability to operate … subject to the each state’s/local county’s rules … in the COVID-19 environment.” This means each individual organization must determine if it will offer summer camps at all and how they will operate.
The ACA recruited health consulting firm Environmental Health & Engineering to work with them and the YMCA of the USA to “evaluate and clarify the health standards a camp would have to adhere [with] to operate this summer” and to offer “science-based input that is crafted specifically for camps.” This collaboration resulted in the Camp Operations Guidebook which ACA provided to health departments in all states. It is also available at ACA’s website for organizations to review and make independent assessments to establish their own camp experiences for children this summer.
Despite clear summer camp safety guidelines issued to address coronavirus concerns, each jurisdiction in our area has established different parameters for their phases of reopening parts of the state for public access and gatherings.
In Maryland, Governor Larry Hogan recently announced permission for youth day camps to resume outdoor activities. In Virginia, Governor Ralph Northam stated overnight camps must remain closed while private campgrounds are allowed to operate under strict 10-person maximum restrictions. In the District of Columbia, Mayor Muriel Bowser did not provide specific guidance for operating summer camps, but did announce lifting the District’s stay-at-home order, which still prohibits gatherings of more than 10 people.
Interpreting state guidelines and the ACA’s guidebook is one thing, but the answer becomes apparent by doing individual research. With everybody doing things slightly differently, it’s best for parents to call each place individually (or visit their website) and ask if they’re offering summer camp this year.
What will camps look like this summer?
One thing is for sure: the traditional fun of summer camps with children freely high-fiving their teen counselors, wrestling each other in good-natured fun and giving warm, Olaf-like hugs is not allowed this year. Everything else is up in the air. When this article was written, many organizations had not posted their decisions whether if, or how, they plan to offer summer camps. We were able to confirm definite plans with only a few organizations.
The Harmonia School of Music and Art in Vienna has decided to offer an in-person summer camp, but has a contingency plan to give virtual classes if things don’t work well. According to office manager Jennifer Murphy, “We’ll be doing temperature checks at the door, requiring masks unless there are medical restrictions, [disallowing use of the] water fountain … and [having] student volunteers do extra cleaning.”
Kidcreate Studio in Alexandria will offer art camps to children ages 4-12 at their art studio, with protocols in place to ensure social distancing, individual art supplies, increased sanitation practices and masks for teachers and campers.
The Camp Koda Summer Riding Program in Leesburg is offering an in-person opportunity for children to learn to ride horses. The staff plans to limit occupancy of their physical spaces to 10 people, offer contactless temperature checks, require face coverings “where possible” and “practice routine cleaning and disinfection of high contact areas,” according to its website.
The following organizations are offering summer camps to students on a virtual basis only, with no opportunity for in-person experiences.
Round House Theatre in Bethesda will offer acting, movement, design and playmaking summer camps to children in grades K-12.
The Young Artists of America at Strathmore is offering a performing arts intensive program in musical theater to students from middle school through high school.
Fairfax Collegiate Summer Program will offer 50 summer enrichment classes with small student class sizes: six for math and up to 12 for other classes.
Washington, D.C. public schools are offering summer extended learning and enrichment opportunities and will provide meals to students.
The MAPACI children’s division of Italians in DC is offering its Camp Stivi for children ages 5 – 15 through ZOOM.
Some organizations have decided to cancel summer camps altogether, including the Town of Leesburg and the City of Gaithersburg.
If parents want their children to attend summer camp this year, they need to understand that the traditional camp setting is not possible. Many organizations are offering some sort of virtual programming. The best plan is to call each place individually and ask about summer camps.