By Heather Wright
So, you’re a camp trying to plan a safe, educational and memorable summer experience for children during a pandemic — and in the midst of a host of fluctuating state and local orders — what are you going to do?
Locally and nationally, the responses run the gamut, from cancelling summer programs altogether, to going virtual, to hosting small groups with restrictions in place. And then there’s the in-between hybrid option.
As of June 15, Prince George’s County entered a modified phase two of reopening, allowing in-person summer camps to begin, subject to Maryland’s new summer camp directives. These rules require camps to limit groups to no more than 10 people; screen participants for COVID-19 upon arrival, including temperature checks; observe social distancing guidelines when possible; and clean common areas frequently. Currently, the state does not permit overnight camps, and camps may not host campers from out of state.
The City of Hyattsville has decided to cancel Camp Magruder, its popular camp for kids in kindergarten through fifth grade. “We are unable to host a program in a manner that would ensure safety for all campers and staff,” notes the city’s website.
Instead, the city is partnering with local organizations and offering free virtual classes and events, including Kids Yoga by Love Yoga, Cool Crafty Campers, book readings of “Andres and His Rubik’s Cube Madness” by author Andrea Alvarez and bilingual performances by Latin American theatre company Teatro La Bolsa.
Free virtual field trips will include a magic show, a Squeals on Wheels petting zoo experience, and a program provided by the Maryland Science Center.
Although cancelling Magruder Camp’s usual summer programming was difficult, Rauf described an unexpected benefit of free virtual offerings.“Bringing camp to an online format allows more kids to join. It allows us to be accessible in ways we didn’t know we could be,” she said. “And that’s one goal of ours at Camp Magruder, to make recreational activities accessible to all children.”
Art Works Now is offering virtual programming, Art Works at Home, throughout the summer for children between the ages of 2 and 17, inviting participants to “create the planet you imagine!” Executive Director and Founder Barbara Johnson said that the biggest consideration in going virtual was “the safety of our children and the safety of our teaching artists and staff.”
The free kick-off week, June 15-19, “Art is Love,” offered participants the chance to make and send laminated art to local hospitals and patients. July’s weekly themes include Water Whirled, Speak for the Trees, and I ❤ Bugs. Art Works provides virtual programming each day — an hour or two, depending on age — assigns theme-related art projects and hosts a virtual art exhibit at the end of each week.
Johnson said one of her main goals for the summer program was for kids to have fun and gain “some distance from the anxiety and worry that’s permeating all of our lives.” She also hoped Art Work’s programming supported students’ emotional, intellectual and scholastic development and provided income for their teaching artists. “The art sector has been hit so hard,” she noted.
Studio Summer Art Camp at University of Maryland’s Studio A is also going all-virtual this summer, with classes and workshops for children ages 6 to 12.
Impulse City, held at University Christian Church on Adelphi Road, is offering a hybrid mix of in-person and virtual programming. Half-day classes are in person, and full-day classes meet in person for half of the day and virtually the other half. According to the Impulse City website, “[Hybrid camps] have been designed to allow some in-person enrichment for our campers during these challenging times when COVID-19 is a serious threat.” Impulse City was ready to move to all-virtual programming if the county had not moved to phase two. Weekly themes for the summer include Summer at Hogwarts, Animal Kingdom, Everything 80s and We Built This City.
Joe’s Movement Emporium has scheduled all in-person programming for its summer camps, as have many local sports programs, including DeMatha Soccer Academy and Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park. According to its website, the Summer Arts Learning Camp at Joe’s “offers one-week sessions for elementary school-aged children to explore world arts traditions through performing and visual arts disciplines.”
Arts Education Director LaTanya Robinson with Joe’s Emporium described how they benefited from providing full-day childcare to essential workers in April and May. “This allowed us to work with a very small group and become acclimated to the new normal, and learn how to support children to adapt to the environment,” explained Robinson.
In accordance with state directives, Joe’s is limiting the number of campers who can participate. Robinson said that in recent summers, Joe’s has typically had more than 60 daily participants organized in groups of around 20. This summer’s enrollment was capped at 18 students for the first three weeks, and then 27 for the following weeks, with a maximum of 9 children in each group. “Even if all slots are filled, we are experiencing a 70% decrease,” explained Robinson.
When asked about her biggest concerns going forward, Robinson wrote in an email, “Lost educational experiences for children, especially experiential learning like arts education. Continuing to face the unknowns surrounding the coronavirus, lack of information about school in the fall, and the reality of how all this and more impact the sustainability of our nonprofit.”