Our LFSF AES and Camp Director, Andrew Sobol, is successfully concluding his third week of camp, on location at our Sausalito campus. We met with him to understand how LFSF camps are being organized to safely welcome children and adults and get his feedback, since back to school 2020 is right around the corner.
LFSF: Andrew, you just successfully completed our first 3 week camp on our Marin campus. How was this camp any different from the many camps you offered in the past?
Andrew: This was not a normal camp at all! A lot of preparation went into this camp to prioritize the safety of all involved, children, staff and parents.
We’ve been diligently observing the County, City and State summer camp COVID-19 protocols and policies. That meant, we had to completely review our traditional camps in regard to physical distancing and structure, which implied sourcing and procuring the necessary safety equipment.
This year, campers were organized by groups of 12 children at maximum – we call them PODS – based on age and grade. Each POD is supervised by 2-3 assigned staff. Campers would remain in the same POD during the whole 3 weeks program. In addition, if a child left camp at any stage, he/she could not be readmitted without a medical clearance. I know, it’s strict, but safety comes first!
LFSF: Speaking of safety, what kind of sanitary measures did you and your staff put in place?
Andrew: We took several preventative measures to reduce the risk of infection.
First of all, the camp was held primarily outdoors (if need be, only one POD at a time would use indoor space, for low risk activities, following physical distancing markers on the floor for a maximum of 10-15 minutes). Our Sausalito campus fortunately has a fantastic outdoor space and we placed the PODS outdoors, in our garden, courtyard and the PreK playground. We set up sanitizing stations in those areas, so that camp staff and children could wash and sanitize their hands frequently.
In addition, we staggered the drop-off and pick up times in different locations and asked parents to follow physical distancing protocols during those times as well!
When it comes to our campers’ personal belongings, we gave them a clear plastic bag with their name on it, on the first day of camp, which stayed at camp. Parents would transfer personal items (such as water bottles, snacks, jackets, hats, ect.) to this bag during drop off and pick up times. We made sure these bags were thoroughly sanitized at the end of each camp day and at the beginning of each day.
At the start of camp, during drop-off, we monitored and checked temperature while encouraging parents to check their children’s temperature and monitor symptoms at home as well. If a child were to show signs of illness or COVID-19 symptoms while at camp, parents were required to pick him/her up immediately. Fortunately, we didn’t experience this situation which is very encouraging for our next series of camps!
Finally, staff and parents were required to wear masks at all times. Each staff member of camp was provided with a PPE kit consisting of masks, hand sanitizer, gloves and sanitizer spray bottle …along with our camp t-shirt!
LFSF: What about the campers? Did they also have to wear masks?
Andrew: We’re always checking the latest guidelines and data on the subject. The State Policy mandates that children 8 and over wear a mask to school. So campers of age 8 and above were required to wear a mask.
For campers under 8, we let the families decide. And from what we’ve observed so far, the majority of families chose to have their child wear a mask during non-physical activities.
In fact, the general feeling and consensus amongst our camp staff have been positive in regards to ensuring safety for all. It is also great to see how our campers have adhered to these new safety measures so quickly and even occasionally remind their parents of the rules when necessary at pick up times!..
LFSF: This situation has clearly been affecting camp life for staff and campers but for parents. How did you help parents navigate these changes?
Andrew: Camps are very different from what most parents were familiar with, so it was important for us to manage everyone’s expectations while also trying to inject an element of fun for our campers!
Before camp started, we sent parents a welcome email packet with clear instructions regarding safety rules and documents required to be able to attend our camps. We included a comprehensive set of guidelines on camp life, with outdoor maps, a checklist on what to bring at camp and a health check.
Of course, some parents still had questions or concerns, which is perfectly understandable. That’s why it was important to communicate regularly, to be available and reassuring.
I believe it’s key to have parents on board with the protocol if you want them to follow the rules. Our first set of camps was a success and parents definitely played a part in it!
Camp staff, parents, children…everyone played the game and it worked out!
It’s in situations like these that you realize why having a strong community is so important … And I can tell that our community is stronger than ever!
LFSF: This seems like a very good learning experience. What conclusions can be drawn from it?
Andrew: Yes, this has been very positive while at times personally stressful because the importance of sanitation and safety is so great in the current context! But in-person camps are not over yet, we are only half way through! For the next 3 weeks, we will hold camps at our Ashbury campus, which is a much different environment than Sausalito.
The knowledge that we gained during this camp will be carried over and applied to future camps. We’ll be applying similar safety protocols, knowing that zero risk doesn’t exist. So far, we’ve done a good job at lowering the risk of an outbreak at camp and keeping adults and children safe. But, as we’ve all experienced in the past months, things can still change rapidly. In such circumstances, being flexible, agile, able to adapt and anticipate really makes a difference.
These last three weeks have been a tremendous learning experience, and will definitely be useful for back to school 2020. I would also like to take this opportunity to personally thank our camp staff team along with our facilities team at each campus. Without them, camp simply would not have happened. Their work ethic and professionalism during this time has been tremendous.
Thank you AES Camp staff and LFSF Facilities team, amazing job!