This pandemic has been hard for kids.
Their schools were shut down, with learning shared between parents and online classes. After-school sports and other activities were cancelled. Time with friends has been limited.
Even as the coronavirus pandemic has drastically changed the school year for children — and is now changing what summer break means — it is driving changes for summer camp programs to protect the health and safety of campers, family and counselors, while offering as much of a normal camp experience as possible.
But for Snohomish County kids, it has now been a force to add to the benefits that summer camp has always provided.
The good news — for kids and parents — is that both the YMCA of Snohomish County and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Snohomish County are taking registration for their summer day camps, while at the same time collaborating on a new resource to help kids cope with the emotional effects of a pandemic that they will have to live with for months to come.
For the most part, summer camp programs offered by both nonprofit organizations will look much like they always have, said Patsy Cudaback, senior vice president for the YMCA of Snohomish County and Marci Volmer, chief operating officer of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Snohomish County. Both talked with The Herald Editorial Board in a teleconference last week.
While field trips to zoos and museums will have to wait, day camps for both will continue to offer outings to parks, lakes and beaches, games, crafts, cooking, music and other activities, Cudaback said.
And along with plenty of hand sanitizer and face masks, adjustments are planned to ensure health and safety, Volmer said, including smaller groups that will be kept together to limit co-mingling of kids; more local activities, rather than field trips involving larger buses; and plenty of cleaning and sanitizing before, during and after camp sessions.
The new wrinkle is something both organizations had discussed even before the pandemic.
“We kept coming back to how we could support kids with anxieties and other issues, and we’ve wanted to support our camp programs with mental health counseling,” Cudaback said, incorporating that counseling into camp sessions to help kids who are experiencing anxiety in their daily lives. It was a concern before the pandemic and an even broader one now.
With grant funding provided by the Community Foundation of Snohomish County and the Providence General Foundation, the organizations are partnering to hire 10 youth and family mental health counselors who will assist during summer camps, working with kids individually and in groups. Another donation from Snohomish County, of “cope” kits, will also provide curriculum and materials to help provide social and emotional learning skills that kids can use now and when school starts in the fall.
Even so, the campers shouldn’t notice any differences among camp staff, Volmer said.
“It’s just another supportive adult. I hope they’ll be able to develop relationships just as the kids do with other counselors,” she said.
The mental health counselors, along with working with kids, will also help train staff in supporting the same skills with kids and can also advise parents, Cudaback said.
Summer camp programs, in many ways, have led reforms over the last century to focus education on the whole child, incorporating fun activities and the outdoors with social and emotional development, skills that kids will use throughout their school years and into their adult lives.
As both organizations made plans for the camp programs they would offer this summer, Cudaback said they talked with parents, asking them what they wanted the camps to provide. They expected some parents to ask that students get some reinforcement in academics to make up for what might have been missed during the abbreviated school year.
“We were surprised. We expected they’d want us to focus on any education gaps,” she said. “Actually, what the parents told us is that they wanted their kids to have fun, to do the usual activities, to be outside and experience that with their friends.”
You know, summer camp.
Camp counselor job openings are availble at tinyurl.com/BGCSCcampjobs.