Summer Camps Remain in Limbo

Honey, what are we going to do with the kids? Absent specific direction from Governor Greg Abbott, summer camp directors can’t make certain plans for the coming season. As businesses reopen and life returns to hesitant communities, there is an overarching sense of suspended animation that’s giving parents a bit of a dilemma: what to do with the kids this summer.

In a random survey of several Houston-area camp directors, it’s apparent safety is the top consideration as they make plans to ensure that summer camp is going to happen, its form still undetermined. Planning during these Covid times is requiring directors start the season at square one, though their enthusiasm is irrepressible.

“I think parents have had enough of their kids for the last two months, so camp is the place to go!” says Tom Gaden with a chuckle, the Executive Director at Quillian Center where First Methodist operates a summer camp, daycare, swimming, sports teams and offers a whole host of activities for neighborhood children. They were able to reopen daycare this week. Staff training has a new focus, he says, and every precaution will be taken with disinfection part of the new routine incorporating several special cleanings each day. He expects smaller groups of kids will be required under the current circumstances, and can envision masked campers running around.“We are preparing as if summer camp is going to happen on May 26,” he says, with the caveat that everything depends on what Governor Abbott says about lifting current restrictions that are set to expire May 19th. He says, laughing, summer campers will learn new meanings to the often repeated phrase, “keep your hands and your feet to yourselves.”

Tracy Rhodes, Director at St. Luke’s All-Day Camps, brings the same delightful humor to these trying times of uncertainty. “We have Plan A,” she says authoritatively. “And Plan B. And Plan C.” It all depends on the direction from state officials. Their current plan, based on their license requirements, is to provide a day camp experience for children whose parents are essential workers; Plan B being a modified on-campus camp open to more families with an emphasis on social distancing and including all safety protocols required in Plan A, and Plan C being an all-virtual experience. Rhodes says field trips will be out this year. Travel won’t be possible. No putt-putt golf. Kids will bring their own lunch. She’s covered all the bases of how to incorporate fun and activities no matter which plan they end up with. Normal for them is 1,600 campers, and Rhodes says one of their biggest challenges is finding enough camp counselors, usually drawn for the ranks of college students. But many college students’ lives are in limbo as well, not sure when classes will restart, or where or how, and not ready to commit to a job given the uncertainty of their own schedules.

Andrea Cody is Director of Dance Houston, a camp for kids aged 7 to 17, with Session 1 planned for June 15-26 and Session 2 running July 13 to 31st.They also have junior sessions for younger kids. Dance Houston hopes not to have to make adjustments to their summer camp scheduling, and are looking at virtual options if the need arises. A highlight of their summer camp has traditionally been a performance at Memorial City Mall, and whether or not that happens is mired in the uncertainty plaguing all schedules.

Elite University Summer Camps are all systems go, depending on what happens in the coming weeks. Owner Jere Charlot has thought of everything.They’ll have fewer children attending session from 75 kids per week to 30, will have a 10 student to 1 counselor ratio, won’t have playground activities are equipment and will disinfect everything with each use, are offering a circle drive to help parents with drop off and pick up, and will limit adults access to the building to prevent the children from being exposed to the virus.Charlot says she’s been in constant communication with parents and is doing everything to accommodate their need for refunds or payment options.

If you’re a parent frustrated by the lack of clarity in the future, you’re not alone: summer camps are feeling the same ambiguity. Stressing the role of community in their function, summer camp directors are looking for how best to provide relief to anxious parents and safe, physical activities for bored kids in safe environments.

Stay tuned.

Camp counselor playing tag with young kids

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