Read about our journey of opening an operating a summer program during COVID19 (Coronavirus). This daily journal is written to provide professionals and parents insight regarding decision making and operations of programs catering to school aged children.
Summer programs around the country are scrambling to offer safe solutions for campers and students who have been “locked up” at home since March.
Regardless of the policies and protocols put into place, parents will need to decide, based on their comfort level, whether to send their child to a summer program or not.
There are only so many precautions any program can make while still offering a fun and engaging educational summer program. Each safety measure put into place results in fewer activities meeting guidelines. To illustrate this point, let us examine the extreme examples.
To guarantee (or get close to) a 0% chance of contagion you would need the following steps in place:
• All campers would need to wear self-contained hazmat suits with a private oxygen supply
• Campers and staff would need to be temperature checked and “rapid tested” daily.
• Campers would only be allowed to remove their gear to eat, drink, shower, or use restrooms.
o Each camper would need a private decontaminated space to perform the activities listed above.
Beyond the impractical implications of campers running around in hazmat suits with oxygen tanks during the summer, there would be very few, if any, activities that could be safely or collaboratively enjoyed in this environment. Therefore, creating the ultimate safe camp environment is completely impractical and counterproductive to camp activities.
On the other end of the spectrum is the traditional summer camp as we know it:
• No social distancing
• Many campers crammed into cabins, sleeping in bunk beds, and using the same facilities
• Competitive games consisting of the entire camp simultaneously engaged in group activities
• Campers sharing food, drinks, candy, equipment, and clothes
• Engaging in physical contact activities
• Not adhering to any strict code of hygiene
Within this environment, every possible activity can remain in place. Team sports, relay races, bobbing for apples, tug of war, wrestling and more. However, this environment is ripe to spread any contagion, including COVID19.
The answer obviously lies somewhere in between these two examples. Camps must figure out the most responsible way to minimize the chance of any type of infection spreading, while still offering fun and engaging activities to their campers.
Camps will need to get creative this summer to keep their campers safe and entertained.
• What safety measures and precautions do you think camps should take?
• Can camps create a safe environment if they do not have access to rapid testing for all staff and campers daily?
• What activities can campers engage in while maintaining proper social distancing?
This Blog follows AEF Summer Programs and details their decision to open camp, the procedures they put into place, and daily summaries of their 8 scheduled weeks of summer program operations.
We decided to document the trials and tribulations faced by our organization operating a summer program midst a worldwide pandemic. The goal of this blog is to give some background but ultimately to provide what we hope will be valuable information and insight which can be used by other programs. Schools and camps are suffering from a data vacuum when it comes to operating under social distancing guidelines. Currently, almost everything is theoretical and has not been tried or evaluated for practical application.
It is our hope that we can provide meaningful guidance through our experiences.
Background: AEF Camps is a division of AEF Schools. The program operates three campuses in the Ft. Lauderdale area. AEF offers programs for children in grades K-12. Each year, the schools and camps cater to 200 average to bright children who have not been as successful as they should be in traditional schools, socially, and/or at home. Some of our children are diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, High Functioning Autism, Asperger’s, have Learning Difficulties, and other social or communication deficits. We do NOT work with the severe populations of students that are aggressive, a danger to themselves or others, or who exhibit abnormal behaviors that are outside of our parameters. Our children, for lack of better wording, are “normal but quirky.”
Like most schools, in response to COVID19, AEF was forced to close on March 17 as per local, state, and federal guidelines. The school operated remote classes via WebEx and maintained a full class schedule, regular office hours, study halls, and support groups for our students and parents. This proved to be extremely challenging for our population, but all things considered was highly successful.
Why Have a Summer Camp?
The decision to hold a summer camp was not an easy one. Ultimately, we decided to open camp for several reasons:
1. Our students had been “locked up” at home for the past 3 months and we felt it was important that we offered them some semblance of normalcy. This included a chance to socialize in a fun, engaging, and educational environment.
2. We did not want to furlough our entire staff and operating a summer program provided a means to keep staff employed through the summer.
3. Operating a camp program would provide our organization with experience in implementing “safe” and appropriate procedures which could be improved upon for the opening of school in the fall of 2020.
Our normal camp program averaged 60 to 80 campers per week. We averaged 14 campers and 2 staff members per room. The following changes were made:
• Maximum weekly enrollment was lowered to 40 campers per week
• Campers were split between two campuses (lower campus and upper campus) which are across the road from one another.
• The younger children are hosted on the lower campus
• The older children are on the upper campus
• Each campus has a maximum of 20 campers
• Camp rooms have a maximum of 10 campers and 1 staff member with a Jr. Counselor
We have the luxury of being able to use two campuses instead of one. This decision was made in order to minimize traffic and interaction on campus and to create two separate camps if necessary. This also helps mitigate potential exposure and contagion in the event a camper or staff member becomes ill.
Contagion Safety Procedures:
• All water fountains were removed or disabled and replaced with hand washing / sanitizing stations
• All campers are required to have their temperature taken (touchless) prior to entering the building
o Temperatures above 100.3 are not permitted on campus
o Campers refusing to have their temperature taken are not permitted on campus
• All campers are required to wash and sanitize hands prior to entering classroom
• All campers are required to wear face masks when entering or leaving their classroom or campus
• Campers are given the option of wearing facemasks while in their cabins or during outside activities
• Parents are not allowed on campus without an appointment
• Campers are not permitted to take any medications which may mask signs of fever, cough, or cold
• Campers who present any flu or cold-like symptoms will be immediately isolated, sent home, and not be allowed to return without a doctor’s clearance.
• Camp groups will NOT share the same indoor space with another camp group
• Each camp group was assigned a single bathroom to use
• Camp groups may share the same outdoor space with one another
• Activities requiring physical contact were removed from the activity list
• Activities requiring sharing of equipment were removed from the activity list
• All rooms will be sanitized and cleaned each day
With our safety protocols and procedures in place, we sent out invitations to our families informing them that we would be operating a modified summer program. Out of the 200 invitations sent out, we received 5 responses back.
Not knowing whether this was due to COVID19 concerns, financial concerns, or a combination of the two, we sent a 2nd round of invitations out letting families know that under the circumstances, they could attend camp for any amount they could afford. As a non-profit program and a business, we felt it was the correct decision to offer our program to our families without cost being a factor. All businesses should be doing everything they can to support the local community who supports them. And this was our way of giving back.
Even with offering free summer programs, we only received a total of 33 applications. This gave us a very clear picture of the apprehension parents had, sending their children to school and/or camp.
However, the positive side of 33 campers was smaller groups to work with and an opportunity to gain experience with safe operating procedures and protocols.
We decided to modify the camp hours and structure. Pre-care and after-care programs were eliminated. Out of the 33 campers, 3 requested after-care. In lieu of aftercare, we undertook to transport the 3 campers’ home in one of our school busses.
Our legal counsel advised us to have a COVID19 hold harmless agreement signed by all parents and staff members participating in the summer program. We followed this advice and the document was required in order to be on campus.
I am writing this blog post on Friday, June 12, 2020. Camp is scheduled to start on Monday, June 15th, 2020. There is a fine balance between offering a fun and enjoyable camp experience and a safe one. We feel that as an organization, we have taken the necessary steps to minimize the risk of bringing contagion onto our campus and from stopping any potential contagion from spreading while still operating an enjoyable summer program for our children. We wish all our families and families around world a safe and enjoyable summer.