Summer camps have helped some children recover from pandemic isolation and prepare for in-person learning

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RICHMOND, Virginia (WRIC) – For over a year, many children were unable to attend school, see their friends or participate in activities as they were used to before the pandemic. For a generation already attached to technology, they spent more time on their computers, whether it was to stay in touch with their peers or to go to school.

This lack of interaction with other children prompted Liz Mullican Garrison to send her daughter to day camps for the first time this summer.

Garrison said his daughter has spent much of the past year and a half alone with technology or just with her parents. She is an only child who is starting middle school in Henrico County this fall after spending most of her fifth year learning at home.

“I think she suffered socially,” Garrison said. Although she doesn’t know anyone who attends the camp programs, Garrison said her daughter was able to make friends quickly and have a good time.

Tom Rosenburg, president and CEO of the American Camp Association, said the past year and a half has been traumatic for children and potentially hampered their social and emotional development. He explained that it is important for children to stay away from their parents and personal devices safely.

He says the children have been deprived of social and emotional connections.

In 2020, only 18% of ACA-affiliated night camps were open and about 60% of day camps. To prepare for the reopening of more camps, the organization researched best practices for operating a camp during this pandemic and released a report on camp practices. They also followed CDC guidelines.

Camp Chanco on The James in Spring Grove, Va. Was one of those camps that closed in 2020 and then reopened their cabins to campers in 2021.

Courtney Mason, with Camp Chanco, said their bookings for 2021 were up from 2019.

Mason, a senior staff member at Camp Chanco, thinks the camp is really important in terms of social development, because for many children this is the first time they’ve become independent. She said it allows them to find out who they are as people.

“It’s hard to learn to live with other human beings in general, there are a lot of life skills that are learned when you come to camp,” Mason said.

Mason said the ability to try new things in a controlled environment helps children overcome certain fears. In summer camps that might reach new heights on a ropes course or stay away from home for the first time.

“I think in terms of social and spiritual development, I will always uphold the fact that I think camps are really, really important in this regard,” Mason said.

Camp Chanco rushed to find staff for the summer of 2021, especially those willing to spend weeks directly in the woods while following COVID mitigation strategies.

Staff and campers who attended summer camps this year did not enter these programs without risk.

Camp Chanco, which had larger groups of children staying there overnight for one to two weeks at a time, kept staff and campers in cohorts to try to avoid a full shutdown if someone tested positive. for COVID-19. The camp also required all campers and staff to be tested for COVID-19 before or upon arrival.

After their arrival, the children were divided into groups, each in their own campsite which has several outdoor cabins for six people. These cohorts did all of their activities together throughout the day. The entire camp was seated for meals and evening activities at the same time, but was divided into socially remote sections outside.

Additionally, when campers and staff interacted with people outside of their cohort, masks were worn. Mason said children and staff typically only wore masks for about two hours a day. If anyone were to have contracted the virus, policies were in place for their cohort to undergo strict quarantine and participate in pre-planned and self-managed activities. Whenever a child or worker fell ill during the summer, the entire campsite was tested. Mason said that at the start of the last few weeks of the camp, they had not yet tested positive.

Rosenberg said many camp programs use what is called a “Swiss cheese defense,” explaining that no single mitigation strategy would fully protect people from the virus, but having a series of protections in place. up will help to better prevent the spread of the virus.

“If you think of each of these layers of protection as Swiss cheese, a slice there might be holes, if you stack all the different layers, basically blocks through all of these layers and so that’s kind of a metaphor. that’s been talked about a lot these days, ”Rosenberg said.

Rosenberg noted that nationally some summer camps experienced epidemics, but that this was “a very small number” compared to the thousands of camps that operated during the summer.

One of the camps attended by Garrison’s daughter had to close early due to a positive case of COVID-19.

The first two camps her child attended ended as planned, then the third program, a weeklong morning camp, ended on the second day. After a camper tested positive for the virus, the camp decided to close for the remainder of the week.

During the program, campers and staff wore masks, seats were distributed, and good hand hygiene was practiced.

“They did what they could do there,” Garrison said. “I assume the child just contracted it before coming to camp and then showed symptoms on the second day of camp.”

Garrison has no hard feelings against the camp and said after the cancellation the families received a full refund. She plans to take part of the reimbursement and return it to the program.

Now, with the reopening of school districts, families are seeing similar problems in the schools run by the camps during the summer. Hopewell City public schools have temporarily closed this summer due to staff shortages caused by COVID-19 cases, quarantines and routine sick days. In Chesterfield County, more than 230 students and public school staff have tested positive for COVID-19 since returning to class.

With many commitments limited to a computer, school and social activities complicated by COVID-19, and some children experiencing the trauma of losing loved ones to the virus, Rosenberg said children enter this school year with heightened emotions. .

“The implication for parents, for teachers, for school districts and for camp directors is, you know, kids, we have to expect kids to need a longer adjustment period. “said Rosenberg.


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