As parents make summer plans, one question will undoubtedly weigh on their minds: Is summer camp safe this year because of COVID-19? Fortunately, the answer is yes, with camps using lessons learned last summer to make this year’s camps even safer.
Scott Vollmer, vice president of STEM learning at the Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland; JodiLyn Solomon, executive director of Camp Lilac in Northeast Ohio; and Ashley Beyer, the director of summer programs at Hathaway Brown School in Shaker Heights, said summer camps are more important than ever because they grant children access to activities the pandemic has taken away.
“I think kids in the summer need to stop that summer slide,” said Vollmer, who added the science center was one of the only local organizations to offer in-person activities last year and will be doing the same again in 2021.
“(Kids) need to stay sharp so they’re ready for next school year. This year is doubly hard because most kids have trouble interacting online. Going out and meeting kids, it makes a lot of impact on them and better prepares them for the uncertainty of the school year ahead.”
This year, Vollmer said kindergartners through eighth graders can to participate in in-person and virtual programs that focus on teaching STEM skills. The science center can also send materials directly to participants’ homes, aiding with hands-on activities that teach engineering, chemistry and biotechnology. The full list of science center summer programming is available at greatscience.com/camps, with weeklong camps running from June 7 to Aug. 20.
Solomon said Camp Lilac will again offer virtual camps exclusively this year, with programming specifically geared toward transgender campers in two weeklong sessions from June 27 to July 2, and July 11 to 16. Now in its fifth year, Solomon said the Shaker Heights operation was founded to be a haven for transgender, nonbinary and asexual youths ages 12 through 17.
“Right now, one of the vaccines can be used for kids as young as 16, but there’s nothing for the other folks,” she said, adding campers would normally have access to everything traditional day camps would provide, including swimming, boating and rock climbing.
Camp Lilac, however, also offers activities like vocal training as well as makeup and nail tutorials to help trans youth explore their identities. For that reason Solomon said it’s especially important everyone can participate, pandemic or not. One of the ways it has allowed that is by creating a Discord server, an instant messaging and video calling platform, which Solomon said has served as a community since last summer, allowing campers to stay in contact with the friends they’ve made at camp.
“At virtual camp last year, we also had open mic nights and we had costume parties, and doing things that kids really like to do in an environment that feels open and accepting and affirming of who they are and feels safe and comfortable,” Solomon said. “Because even though parents may absolutely love their children and be super supportive, they can’t provide that. And I think it’s even more important during the pandemic.”
Camp Lilac applications and instructions to join the Discord server are available at camplilac.org.
Similarly, Beyer said kids and parents need camps now more than ever because they allow the young ones to get nourishing social interaction while giving their elders some free time. Hathaway Brown is filling the need by once again offering on-campus camp options after only doing virtual sessions in 2020.
“Last year, we weren’t able to have anything on campus,” Beyer said.
Those online options, including variations on sports, adventure and day camps, will still be available for kindergartners through eighth graders, but this year there is also an all-girls in-person component.
“We’ll definitely be distanced, all kids will be in masks,” she said. “There will also be swimming lessons and free swim. We usually have a couple people coming in house, like the magician in house. We’re still in the planning zone of what’s happening over the summer, of who’s coming into our day camp.
“I think parents are reaching out to have their kids be involved more in the summer, like being back with their friends, even if they’re keeping them remote.”
Hathaway Brown’s summer camp programming will run from June 14 to Aug. 6, with a full list of camps and instructions to register available at hb.edu/summer.
Collin Cunningham is a freelance writer in Cleveland.