How One Summer Camp is Preparing to Support Local Families

By Andy Pritikin

Times are crazy, especially for parents. Balancing careers with home life and co-teaching for three months have been beyond stressful.

Soon, society will be expecting parents to return to their workplace. Recently, Italy reopened their economy but kept the schools closed. According to a recent NY Times article, they quickly realized they had a significant “problem within a problem.” In our modern day society, families can not return to any semblance of normalcy without school, childcare, or summer camp.

What about the kids? Cooped up in quarantine for three months, unable to socialize with their peers. And we thought kids and technology were a problem BEFORE the pandemic? Now you can tack on fear, anxiety, and socio-emotional, and mental stability issues.

While we can be concerned about the small amount of cases of inflammation syndrome that recently emerged, my opinion is that we should be more concerned about the declining mental stability and social skills of millions of children. Certainly, there are also unanswered questions about the potential of children spreading the virus to adults. That is something each family needs to decide for themselves, but we do urge families to practice social responsibility while their children are at camp and two weeks after. (We actually have camp families that are literally self-quarantining during their children’s stay at camp.)

While schools scramble to figure out what to do in the fall, this leaves summer camps to become the proverbial “canary in the coalmine” for the re-socialization of our children in the immediate future. We didn’t sign-up for this job, but as things continue to improve, we are willing to embrace the opportunity.

Not all Summer Camps are able to, however. While they may wish they could, some are too small, don’t have the infrastructure, nor the outdoor space for such an undertaking. Some states have put too many restrictions in place to make it possible. But many camps accredited by the American Camp Association have been preparing since March for the opportunity to provide the essential service of giving children the ability to live childhood again, while unburdening working parents, and helping the economy get back on track.

How can a summer camp pull this off? Well, summer camp professionals (yes, it is a 12-month profession for thousands of us) are conditioned for challenging situations. Each summer is about handling variables: Staff issues, parent issues, government/regulatory issues, child issues, supply chain issues, rain, 100 degree temperatures, storms rolling in, floods, electrical blackouts. We basically manage mini-cities, and have weathered many storms before: West Nile, H1N1, Measles, just in recent memory.

Yes, covid-19 may top them all, so, the American Camp Association delivered a copy of the CDC recommendations to the consultants at Environmental Health & Engineering (E. H. & E.), leading experts in applying the study of virology and epidemiology into the workplace. E. H. & E. creates guidelines and protocols for some of most prominent hospitals, research labs and universities in our country, and has now created a field guide for American Camp Association accredited day and resident camps that outlines best practices and safety measures under the new precautions we must quickly learn to adapt to.

Does this eliminate risk? Of course not. Does this eliminate any traces of the coronavirus? Of course not. Camps can’t make those guarantees; there are too many variables. Just like there will be when the children return to school, whenever that may be. There are inherent risks for children doing anything beyond remaining isolated at home. But perhaps the benefits of being outdoors with other children in a closely monitored situation outweighs the risks, including the additional risks of continuing to quarantine them at home through the fall.

At some point, society is going to get rolling again, without a covid-19 vaccine. This is not about money – most camps will lose money this season, whether they open or not. We have accepted that fate, and many have taken on additional debt service. This is about allowing us to provide an essential service to our communities.

I’ve been framing it this way to my hired staff for over a month now, that working at camp this summer will be as vital as working in a hospital, or a grocery store. Most are smiling and rolling up their sleeves for the opportunity to spread sunshine upon your children this summer, outdoors and screen-free. We hope to get that opportunity.

Andy Pritikin is the Owner/Director of Liberty Lake Day Camp in Mansfield Township NJ, Past President of American Camp Association NY/NJ, and host of the Day Camp Podcast.