By Dustin Turner
Summer camps are where kids go to create art, learn about the great outdoors, play sports, explore academic subjects and more. Even though many public places are opening up and reducing COVID-19 precautions, summer campers should still expect to wear masks, wash their hands frequently, get their temperatures taken and practice social distancing.
When the COVID-19 pandemic started last spring, summer camp organizers rushed to figure out the best way to proceed. Some made plans to proceed with safety measures in place. Some went online for virtual camps, and others canceled.
Caroline Gwinn, the executive director of Aiken Center for the Arts, said she never considered canceling the camps.
“Even last year, the first time dealing with COVID-19, we knew we were going to do the camps. We just had to figure out what was safe for us to do,” she said. “Everything had been shut down for a few months, and we knew it would be important for children to have that outlet. It’s still important for them to create art together with in-person instructors.”
The Family YMCA of Greater Augusta set guidelines for COVID for last year’s camps and had a positive response from the community.
“We have never been short on interest in the camps,” said Anna Coffey, the Family YMCA’s communications specialist. “The camps were full last summer, and we’re expecting the same this year.”
Most organizers rely on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when planning their camps.
“The CDC is really good about putting out content for summer camps,” Augusta Players office manager Jeannie Butler said. “They have a whole section on the website dedicated to summer camps, and that has really been helpful for us.”
The CDC Toolkit for Summer Camps includes downloadable and printable posters on everything from washing hands and covering sneezes to social distancing and wearing masks. Organizers also have access to videos, public service announcements and fact sheets. The free information is at CDC.gov.
Perhaps one of the most common guidelines involves social distancing. The CDC recommends staying 6 feet apart. Gwinn said that at Aiken Center for the Arts last year, they marked circles on the floor 6 feet apart for students to work in. She will follow CDC recommendations again this year.
“We will follow whatever guidelines the CDC deems appropriate to ensure everyone’s safety,” Gwinn said. “We are really blessed with the gift of space. We are using all the space and reducing the number of students in the camps. We are restructuring to be in a spaced-out, safe framework where they can still come, create and have a normal routine.”
The Augusta Players, on the other hand, must rely on rented spaces for summer camps, and that is taking a little longer than usual.
“We generally rent space from churches, but many are still figuring out how to reopen and are not allowing big groups in,” Butler, the office manager, said. “But we will get that figured out. We’ve already talked to several facilities about using larger rooms than we usually do so we can spread out.”
The Family YMCA will enforce social distancing during its summer camps. Its official summer camp COVID-19 policy states: “Campers will be advised to keep 6 feet of distance between themselves and other campers. Maintaining at least an arm’s length distance always. Face masks should be worn when campers are walking through the branch or congregated in an area where they are unable to social distance.” The full guidelines can be found at TheFamilyY.org/Reopening-Guidelines.
Westminster Schools of Augusta is offering a variety of camps for children from 3 years old to high school, including weeklong camps for baking, photography, music, art, Legos, sports, math, history and more. Safety is the first priority for Kaitlyn West, the school’s summer programs coordinator.
“We want to offer as much as we can for as many kids as we can and give them a safe opportunity to get out of the house this summer,” she said. “We are capping most of the classes at about 15 so there is plenty of space. We’ll be cleaning a lot and trying to get outside and spread out as much as possible.”
The Augusta Players held its musical theater summer camp virtually last year, but Butler says parents are ready to get their kids back to in-person activities.
“Kids have been going to school, ball games and dance recitals—all with COVID guidelines—so they are used to going out and following safety guidelines,” she said.
And if parents are still worried: “Most of our instructors are schoolteachers who have been vaccinated.”
For Gwinn at Aiken Center for the Arts, there’s no substitute for in-person arts instruction.
“When you learn via Zoom, you’re still isolated. With the camp, you can grow and learn collectively and feed off each other,” she said. “So much of art is sharing. You’re getting your perspective out there and expressing yourself. You just can’t do that in a virtual setting.”
West agrees with the importance of in-person summer camps. “I think we need to give students ability to socialize and see their friends in a safe way,” she said of the camps at Westminster. “We want to show them that we love them and care for them, and it’s very difficult to feel that in a virtual setting.”
Coffey said the YMCA wants to give campers some normalcy in the often-crazy world of COVID.
“We are striving to have fun and give the campers something to do,” she said. “We want them to be able to just get out and do fun kid stuff.”
Dustin Turner is the Communications and Content Manager for Alison South Marketing Group. He lives in Aiken with his amazing, beautiful and very patient wife of 22 years, Jamie, and their artistic, sassy and fierce daughter, Abigail, 12. Dustin enjoys writing, shooting and editing video and acting and directing in community theatre.
Photo by Anna Samoylova on Unsplash