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Summer Camps And Programs Adjust During Coronavirus Pandemic

It’s summer, and usually, that would mean a wide variety of summer programs would be open for kids, like day camps or educational classes.

The coronavirus outbreak, however, has changed the landscape for summer programs. Some are canceled, some are now online, and others that are still offering in-person programs look very different.

Ballet students in Kay Eichman’s class are wearing leotards and buns. Everything sounds and looks like a normal class, but the dancers are all in their separate homes, meeting virtually, to keep them safe during the pandemic.

Some students don't have ballet barres in their homes, so they use chairs and counters for support. [Lisa Ryan / ideastream]

Eichman teaches ballet at Cuyahoga Community College, which has moved all of its summer programs online.

There are certain challenges, though, for arts programs to meet virtually, said Emanuela Friscioni, Tri-C's director of Creative Arts Academy.

“In an online setting, you are limited a lot in what you can do,” she said. “For instance, one of the hardest things for us to do is music. Even with the best platform available, there will be always a delay in sound, so playing together is really not an option,” Friscioni said.

 The students are often broken into smaller groups to get around this technical barrier, which can be a positive.

“Because I am dividing them, I’m working on almost an individual basis. I can work on certain technical aspects that in a group class, I might not be able to do,” she said.

The school uses an online service called Flipgrid, which allows students to access the curriculum by computer or phone.

“In families when you have multiple kids, the use of the computer might be very limited, especially if everybody wants to use it at the same time,” Friscioni said. “Some families might not have computer or Internet capability, but everybody — almost everybody — has a phone.”

The teachers, like music instructor Teri Harris, record themselves. This benefits students because they aren’t just seeing it once in class. They can watch the videos as many times as they need, Friscioni said.

Vocal instructor Teri Harris uploads a video of herself singing, and her students follow the exercise and upload their own videos. [Lisa Ryan / ideastream]

Some summer programs are still happening in person, or they are using a hybrid approach with some online and some in-person sessions, like at the Great Lakes Science Center.

“The biggest changes and most important things we’re doing are a real mix of visible and invisible,” said Kirsten Ellenbogen, Science Center president and CEO.

The center changed the air conditioning system to provide more fresh, outdoor air in an attempt to reduce virus spread, she said. Campers are screened before leaving their cars, to make sure they aren’t running a fever and don’t have other symptoms of the coronavirus.

And everyone wears a mask.

“The masks are critical, and it’s why we’ve stuck to a 100 percent requirement for staff and for guests,” Ellenbogen said.

The campers spend a lot of their time outside, which is safer when it comes to viral spread, and the kids are kept physically apart, she said.

“There’s wiggle room,” she said. “We don’t expect every child to stay still all the time, so making sure that children are spaced far enough that movement here and there is not going to be an issue.”

The Science Center also closed some exhibits that are harder to clean. The safety measures are rooted in science and immunology, as are the way they educate kids on the coronavirus and how to stay healthy, Ellenbogen said

“As a camper, a lot of it is focused on the mask and why we are taking precautions to make things safer,” she said.

There are also educational displays throughout the building, including in the bathrooms.

“As you’re washing your hands, we have a sign that you read that explains the power of handwashing, and that sign is exactly timed out so that it takes about 20 seconds to read the sign, and when you’re done reading it, you can stop washing your hands," she said.

According to recently released guidelines for summer camp operations from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is important for any in-person summer program to practice these kinds of science-based coronavirus prevention strategies.

Some organizations, however, have canceled summer programs because of the financial hit from COVID-19, and the need to meet the kind of safety guidelines outlined by the CDC.

The Cleveland Metroparks, for example, canceled camps and most other programs. Cleveland Heights canceled camps as well as youth sports. The Mandel Jewish Community Center is forgoing most of their programs but added a few virtual activities.

Experts predict these kinds of hard decisions and operational changes may continue for local organizations well into the future as the country adjusts to the coronavirus.

Copyright 2021 90.3 WCPN ideastream. To see more, visit 90.3 WCPN ideastream.