Commonpoint Queens typically runs six summer day camps out of four locations, serving 1,100-plus children ages 2 to 15. Knowing the challenges of opening camp programs in summer 2020 will be far from typical, Commonpoint Queens is drawing on their experience running seven Regional Enrichment Centers (REC).
“We are running camp because kids need camp. They need to be outside and with their peers. If regulations allow us to serve 10 children or 100 or 500, we will provide a safe and fun camp experience for those kids,” said Danielle Ellman, CEO of Commonpoint Queens.
For the past 11 weeks, Commonpoint Queens has provided emergency child care to 16,335 children ages 3 to 12. In that time they have not identified a single case of COVID-19 in any of the children in their care. When they first received the contract to open two RECs in their facilities and manage five additional centers within NYC public schools, they implemented a series of protocols that met or exceeded government standards.
Over the weeks they refined their policies and procedures. A few of their best practices include grouping children and keeping them together throughout the day, cleaning high-touch surfaces on an ongoing basis, ensuring all participants and staff wear masks, and deep cleaning the classrooms and gyms daily.
The additional challenge of children attending the REC forced the staff to look for new ways to assimilate children who were unfamiliar with the facility and their peers into the program was met with a caring, age-appropriate integration approach.
Along the way, the staff didn’t forget the fun, and got creative in reinventing games and activities to fit the new social distancing rules. Games were modified in ways that allowed kids to collaborate and compete while being physically distanced. Story time, circle time, arts and crafts, and other quiet activities were rethought to provide opportunities for teamwork and conversation.
In preparation for the opening day of the upcoming camp season, Commonpoint Queens has put into place a “safe camping guide” outlining how their summer day camps will operate during the coronavirus pandemic. The guide draws on best practices on everything from social distancing and cleaning, to having fun in a nurturing, safe, socially distanced environment that recognizes and respects each child and family as valued and active participants in their social, emotional and educational development.
In the context of the need for staying safe and social distancing, having a resource where kids can be kids in a safe, nurturing environment that respects them as individuals is critical to their social and emotional health, according to Angela Diaz, a professor at the Department of Pediatrics and Environmental Medicine and Public Health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
“Our children have been in quarantine for 12-plus weeks. They see the news. Many have lost family members and friends to COVID-19, and are now witnessing images of police violence against people of color and protests against racism. They need and deserve a break,” Diaz said.
According to Diaz, summer camp “enables, reinforces and facilitates” a child’s ability to learn for life and prepares them for successful adulthood. Kids acquire skills such as self confidence, the importance of kindness and generosity, and confidence in voicing their opinions as well as positive behaviors such as resilience and empathy which are nurtured.
Commonpoint Queens’ safe camping plan begins each day with screening all campers and staff for symptoms by asking them to self-report COVID-19 symptoms, such as a cough, sore throat, or loss of taste or smell. They also include daily temperature checks. The camps will isolate and send home any camper displaying symptoms.
Campers and their counselors will be grouped into smaller “teams” for all daily activities and provided with individual equipment to avoid sharing, with the goal of not only limiting the spread of the virus but also, if a case is identified, to quickly contact and trace everyone that individual has connected with.
For information on registration, contact DayCamp@CommonpointQueens.org.