The pandemic has been difficult for Milagritos Tapia’s two children. After seeing how much they benefited from in-person learning at St. Paul’s School for Boys, she wants that to continue over the summer.
A Lutherville resident for the past 16 years, Tapia has sent her children — Nestor, 11, and Martin Sow, 7 — to Education, Sports and Fun at the Gilman School in Roland Park for about five years. She drops them off as early as 8 a.m., heads to work and picks them up around 5:30 p.m.
“They need to be around friends. They need the camaraderie. They need activity. They need socialization,” Tapia said.
With summer approaching, Baltimore camps are gearing up to adhere to COVID-19 safety measures, including outdoor learning, limited enrollment, staggered drop-off and pick-up schedules and using health technology to check symptoms.
As the pandemic ramped up last year, some camps went virtual while others offered in-person activities, with limited capacity. But this year, most camps will be in person with limited capacity. Most activities will be outdoor learning. Just like last year, many won’t offer transportation or lunch. Those that will provide food will serve boxed lunches.
Recent guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommends camp staffers get vaccinated and do activities outdoors. The CDC advises that children under 12 at camps should wear masks except when eating, swimming or napping. Older children who have been vaccinated can remove their masks outdoors, according to the most recent CDC guidance.
There should be an emergency plan detailing what staffers should do when someone tests positive, is exposed to the virus or has symptoms, the CDC recommends.
Education, Sports and Fun had to come up with some new operating methods, said Michael Rouse, executive director and CEO. Among them: Refill water stations throughout the camp instead of using water fountains.
Instead of cafeteria service, boxed lunches will be available. In addition, there’ll be one way in and one way out to the swimming pool.
And every morning before coming to campus, families are to take a survey via Ruvna, a health technology tool, used to check COVID symptoms.
“We’re basically keeping kids consistently in the same group throughout the entire camp program, so there’s no mixing,” Rouse said. “We’re doing anywhere between eight and 12 to 14 children [based] on the age. Younger children would be more around eight per group, and for our much older teenagers, you’re looking at 12 to 15 per group.”
Last year, as the pandemic ramped up, Tapia said her children didn’t go to camps — a change they didn’t like. Her mother helped babysit.
At Coppermine, which serves children aged 4 to 12, there’ll also be cohorts of children, said owner Alex Jacobs.
Locations include the Coppermine Du Burns Arena and Coppermine Sports in Baltimore and Coppermine Fieldhouse on Falls Road in Baltimore County and in Carroll County.
“We’re a year-round company. We [had] the entire year to plan and implement programs for our classes. What we have is really not new; we’ve been implementing all year since summer,” Jacobs said.
Just like last year, this year’s camps will be in-person. Unlike last year, children will engage in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math topics as well as team building.
The company invested in outdoor activities and developed a staggered schedule, giving parents a window of time to pick up and drop off. A staff member then takes the children to the classrooms.
More than 3,000 campers take part in Baltimore City Recreation and Parks camps each year. In-person outdoor summer camps were provided last year with limited capacity, said Karen Jordan, deputy director of recreation.
Staffers will wipe down surfaces every 20 to 45 minutes. Transportation will be provided for field trips only. Bagged lunches will be provided, and campers won’t be allowed to share supplies.
“I want people to understand that we’re doing everything we can to provide opportunities for our youth to come out and enjoy life, and enjoy each other,” Jordan said. “We’re trying to do this as safely as possible.”
At SuperKids, run by the Parks and People Foundation, nearly 600 students who are mostly low-income normally take part in the summer camp, said Alicia Copeland, director of youth programs.
The foundation has run camp sites throughout Baltimore City, including at the Creative City Public Charter School. Camp was virtual last year. This year it will be hybrid and will have outdoor activities.
“I’m all for being outdoors,” Copeland said. “I don’t want to use the word normal, but the [camps] are a little bit closer to normal.”
Anne Arundel County Recreation and Parks will operate mostly like last year, said Jacque Hurman, chief of recreation services. In 2020, small, in-person outdoor camps were provided, but this year there’ll be some indoor activities.
There will be cohorts of no more than 15 children per group, and no transportation will be provided.
There won’t be a staggered drop-off or pick-up schedule. Parents are required to stay in their car and swimming will only be available at North Arundel Aquatic Center, Hurman said.
Children will be responsible for bringing their own food but will be provided supplies, including scissors and glue.
“It’s just a very different situation than we were in last year. It’s a lot different because we know what we’re doing,” Hurman said.
Every camper of the Annapolis Recreation Center camps ― whose staff will be trained based on the guidelines set forth by the Maryland Department of Health Summer Camp Division — will be issued a bag with camp supplies, including an extra mask and hand sanitizer, said Kathryn Owings, recreation division chief.
Children’s supplies won’t be shared. Their temperature will be taken daily, and they’ll be split into pods of 12. Lunch will be picked up at an approved site and delivered to the camp, she also said.
“We are limiting transportation this year and will not be going on full-day field trips,” she said. “We do offer services to shuttle to outdoor activities for campers within the city. The bus driver will receive specific COVID protocol training.”
“This year, we are happy to be able to get back to offering full-day camps, as well as before and aftercare,” she said.