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Camp During COVID-19: Changing on a Dime

July 30
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By Rita Chelmo, Middle School U program coordinator

The whirlwind of this pandemic has been a life changing experience for us all with some ups and a lot of downs. Having never been much of a thrill seeker myself, and despising the stomach drop of the plummet, I think most would agree that this COVID coaster has been less exhilarating than it is sheer panic inducing. However, there are few people I’d rather have by my side through this wild ride than my incredible coworkers who have all found a way to keep us from running off the tracks.

At the start of this all, the anxiety attached to the uncertainty of trying to prepare for a future that was still just a giant virus-shaped blur, seemed endless, and the news of Middle School U and Wander Wisconsin being canceled was admittedly discouraging. That said, I was equal parts elated and nervous when informed that we were actually going to run programs this summer.

The task of restructuring our programs to meet CDC guidelines seemed a daunting if not impossible undertaking, but we were able to sit down, examine our main objectives and put in place a plan to successfully achieve them. With a practical and effective solution of developing small pods of children each with an assigned counselor to reduce risk and exposure, a lengthy and regimented cleaning strategy, and a new plan for how the day would run, we began putting things into action and feverishly creating lessons.

These lessons have been thoughtfully developed ahead of time for two different age ranges and are in keeping with a weekly theme with more focused daily topics and specific objectives. They are student centered and include a variety of hands-on and group share opportunities, movement-based learning activities, mindfulness and reflective emphases, creative development, and also seek to present situations that engage students in pursuing and valuing alternative modes of investigation or multiple ways to solve problems. We’ve adapted not only to meet public health and safety standards but also to be more academically centered to make up for both lost classroom time and summer slide. Our programs still have the heart of summer camp with a bit more of the brain as well.

Though we worried that implementing safety protocols and keeping everyone in small groups would detract from the fun, children and counselors alike have had a blast really getting to know each other while eagerly diving into new projects and learning opportunities.

At the risk of sounding overly superstitious, when asked about how programs are going, it’s as though we all hold our breath as we respond honestly about the success and then quickly find some wood to knock on.

Pulling this off took a lot of preparation, adapting, hard work, and creativity, and I am proud of the quality programs that we were able to provide for families this summer despite the situation.

I feel that, as a company, we have really come to rely on the individual strengths of our colleagues while examining and finding solutions for our collective weaknesses. The pandemic has developed a greater sense of unity within our organization and it seems that our staff are even more willing to go above and beyond for the team and, of course, the kids.

Though the virus-shaped blur of the future has not entirely subsided, it now seems more an approachable pup than a monstrous yeti. With every crisis comes major challenges as well as opportunities for transformation and I consider myself lucky to work with such an amazing team of people that truly care about the kids and the community that we serve.

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