By Chanté Griffin
When news of the COVID-19 shutdown arrived last March, we were told life would return back to normal in a matter of weeks. One year later, as shutdowns and re-openings are commonplace, learning to plan amidst uncertainty is a new life skill. Educating and entertaining kids in the summertime while ensuring their safety is a gargantuan task— one summer camps are taking seriously.
We asked several local camps how they plan to roll out their summer experiences in light of the unpredictability of COVID-19. While individual approaches vary, they all involve flexibility, safety, great activities, virtual options and, of course, tons of fun.
To prioritize safety, some summer programs have restructured their staff teams and/or entire camp structures. Got Game Sports is one example. While the specifics of how the sports camp will offer its in-person offerings on Los Angeles Unified School District campuses this summer are TBD, owner Korey Kalman, known affectionately as Coach Korey, is working hard to make this year’s activities COVID-safe.“The focus this year first and foremost is on safety. Operating safely and exceeding federal and local mandates is our priority,” he says. To ensure this goal, Got Game Sports expanded its staff to include medical personnel. “One thing that really has helped was bringing a medical doctor onto our team to support in-person operations, training and safety,” says Kalman. The camp is determined to deliver on its mission to build confidence in kids ages 4 to 14 through physical activity, despite any fluctuating guidelines from lawmakers.
Likewise, Tall Ship Island Adventure Sea Camp, based in the South Bay, created a new staff position to ensure compliance with in-flux COVID-safety guidelines. Alice Taylor, who works as a director for the sailing camp, shared that its new safety position emerged a year ago. “Last March, we immediately created a safety officer position to prepare and implement strict COVID-19 protocols for our ships, live-aboard crews, classroom and workshop spaces. Those protocols have kept us safe and still operating under whatever state, county or city guidelines happen to be in place at any given time,” Taylor says. “This is something we monitor daily.”
Tall Ship Sea Camp also implemented a “no-risk reservation policy” that provides a back-up hybrid camp model that will “institute virtual camps with activity boxes if COVID-19 guidelines force another shut-own,” Taylor says.
Another camp that altered its structure is Valley Trails Summer Camp. It changed its structure to ensure that all campers on its Tarzana and Castaic locations securely enjoy a traditional camp experience. To promote safety and small group community, all campers (grades K-10) will participate in closed cohorts, with no more that 11 campers per group, a strategy the camp successfully implemented in last summer.
Other summer programs, however, have opted for a completely virtual experience for students. Project Scientist’s decision to host a virtual lab has enabled it to introduce a larger pool of young girls, ages 4 and up, to the power of STEM careers. “The pandemic has affected our ability to offer in-person camps and expeditions to top STEM companies,” says Sandy Marshall, Project Scientist’s CEO and founder. “However, having it virtual means that girls from anywhere can attend this camp from the comfort and safety of their homes.” To ensure the virtual curriculum remains engaging, Marshall says the organization conducted research to determine how best to combine virtual and hands-on activities. This year’s STEAM camp focuses on creative thinking through art, mental wellness and entrepreneurship, in addition to Project Scientist’s traditional subjects.
Designer Camp Digital’s decision to offer its week-long camps virtually also created new opportunities for its participants. True to its name, Designer Camp Digital provides hands-on instruction to young creatives ages 11 to 17 about the world of fashion, interior design, costume design and photography.
Besides enabling the camp to reach students around the world, the digital format expanded its course offerings. “We have been able to give tours of studios and designers that we would have not been able to access in person,” says Camp Director Mercedes Curran. With the new format, students participate in pre-recorded, live workshops and “work one-on-one with professional designers, receiving mentorship and the option to continue their design education throughout the rest of the year,” says Curran. This summer, she says the staff looks forward to “offering the same incredible insights, with new designers and students.”
Other camps plan to strengthen their core offerings, while abiding by COVID protocols. Summer@Stratford, which offers programs in Los Angeles, Mission Viejo and Altadena, is one example. This year, it will provide preschool, elementary and middle school students with a full STEAM experience, including robotics and drone aviation. Students can enroll in multi-week programs throughout the summer where they will learn independently and in small groups. “Our program is packed with so much variety, children will enjoy ample opportunities to learn and grow while discovering their unique talents” says Candi Schreuders, head of school for the Stratford School’s Los Angeles campus. “And most importantly, children will blossom in this enriched social environment!”
Similarly, Performing Arts Workshops (PAW) will operate this summer, come rain or shine, because as they say in the theater: “The show must go on!” PAW has amended this famous quote for 2021: “The show must go…online” by offering summer camp in one-week sessions all summer long. Its Online Summer Camp for ages 5 to 14 will offer partial, half- and full-day programs, and kids will get to build their own daily activities with choices of acting, singing, guitar, comedy, cheerleading, debate, magic and more.
PAW President and Program Director Cheryl Appleman says, “Our in-person 2021 camp season has been planned and will be open to enrollment when we receive the green light from local health agencies.” If green-lit, kids who participate in PAW’s two-week musical theater camp can star in productions of “Hip Hop Hamilton” and “Rapunzel.”
For some camps, fun and flexibility are paramount this summer as they prepare their programs amidst uncertainty. Sherman Oaks-based Kids Like Me – a part of The Help Group’s Autism Center – will provide an interactive summer camp experience for children and teens with autism spectrum disorder and other social challenges.
Attendees ages 6 to 21 will be matched with peers of similar age and ability to provide a mix of fun, stimulating activities. While real-time COVID guidelines will determine if the program is offered in-person or virtually, program director Nicole Webb says the camp has lots of special activities planned: “social skills development, virtual dance parties, cooking, cartooning and something we call ‘fun and fitness’.”
Although summer 2021, like summer 2020, is filled with lots of unknowns, it can safely be assumed that this summer – perhaps more than last – kids need some respite from the doldrums pandemic life has produced. Fun, enriching and safe summer programs are a win for camps, kids and their families.
Chanté Griffin is a writer living in Los Angeles whose work centers on race, faith, culture and education. You can follow her on Twitter @yougochante.