Commonpoint Queens typically runs six summer day camps out of four locations, serving 1,100+ children ages 2-15. 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).
Over the past 11 weeks, Commonpoint Queens has provided emergency child care to 16,335 children ages 3-12. 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 5 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, ongoing cleaning of high touch surfaces, ensuring all participants and staff wear masks, and deep cleaning of 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. Storytime, 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.
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 trace out everyone that individual has connected with.
“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. 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. Summer camp is so much more than just a break. Summer camp enables, reinforces, and facilitates a child’s ability to learn for life. Children love the friends they make at camp and the exciting adventures they have. But, it is the life lessons and social skills camp gives them — that prepares them for successful adulthood: 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. These skills are more important than ever.” Angela Diaz, MD, PhD, MPH is the Jean C. and James W. Crystal Professor, Department of Pediatrics and Department of Environmental Medicine and Public Health, at the lcahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
Danielle Ellman, CEO of Commonpoint Queens said, “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.”
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