The program, which focuses on preventing immigrant and low-income children from falling behind in school, hopes to offer its summer program in person this year, but it’s waiting for further guidance from county and school officials.
That worries the Lahais.
“Without the summer engagement, they will be left behind,” Rebecca Lahai said of her daughters, who are in second and fourth grade.
Not all jurisdictions in the region will have in-person day camps this summer. Reopening plans in Maryland and Virginia allow for day camps to operate with size restrictions, while day camps in the District remain closed. Northern Virginia has stricter measures in place; Fairfax County camps are remaining closed, and camps in Alexandria and Arlington County are going virtual, with the hope of having in-person sessions later this summer. Maryland’s counties have the ability to set their own restrictions.
The camps that will open are following guidelines set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Camping Association to operate safely. They include temperature checks before coming to camp, frequent cleaning of high-touch surfaces and division of campers into small groups, with limited interactions with others.
But the social distancing measures also significantly limit the number of campers each camp can serve, forcing agencies to choose who gets priority for one of the available slots.
Montgomery County, which usually has more than 3,000 campers from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, initially canceled its summer camps, but later determined it can serve about 700 children in person this summer, according to its recreation director, Robin Riley.
Officials in both Prince George’s and Montgomery counties say they are still determining which children will get to go to camps, but plan to prioritize high-need families.
“We know we have to keep social equity at the forefront of this conversation,” said Chanda Washington, a spokesperson for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, Department of Parks and Recreation in Prince George’s County.
Public camps — which are subsidized for those in need — often give children the chance to learn outside the classroom, with trips to museums (which still could happen through virtual tours this summer), bringing in STEM speakers and slipping math problems into arts and crafts.
Without this, children in lower-income families could fall behind in their education, especially if they don’t have access to other tools for virtual learning, according to Jodi Grant, executive director of the Afterschool Alliance, a D.C.-based nonprofit that promotes access to affordable youth programming.
Grant suggests opening up spaces at public schools with guidance from public health experts and input from parents to allow for more children to go to camp.
“If we want to be a strong society, we need to be thinking of opportunities for all of our kids,” Grant said. “We need to figure out particularly how we are going to get them to safe places in person.”
The YMCA of Metropolitan Washington will run camps later this month for families who are returning to work or need child care.
While it normally serves more than 10,000 campers from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, according to Reynard Eaglin, the YMCA’s vice president of youth development, the agency will serve only a fraction of that this summer. One location with a normal capacity of 300 campers, for example, will serve just 60 to 80 youths, Eaglin said.
Private camps also will have fewer slots this summer.
Megan Zinn, who owns Summer Cove in Springfield, Va., said she can’t take the temperatures of all campers and staff on a regular basis, so she’s holding virtual camp instead. Zinn said she is preparing kits of food for baking and arts and crafts supplies to send home so children can still take part in typical camp activities.
Other private camps will hold in-person programming this summer.
Koa Sports, a Bethesda sports camp, will hold small sessions in campers’ backyards, each consisting of up to eight campers and two staffers leading socially distanced outdoor activities, said chief executive Tony Korson.
And Valley Mill Camp in Montgomery County will start in-person sessions on June 29, according to owner Evelyn McEwan. Parents must check their child’s temperature before sending them on the bus, where campers will sit one to a seat and wear a mask.
Valley Mill also will divide campers into isolated pods with a counselor carrying extra personal protective equipment and hand sanitizer, among other precautions.
“We will do whatever it takes to be safe,” McEwan said. “I don’t want any of my campers to be exposed.”
If someone does show symptoms or test positive for the coronavirus, they will receive credit for the days missed to attend future camp sessions, she said.
For Jackie and Servio Medina, whose twin daughters, age 6, and son, 8, attend the private Congo Camp in Northern Virginia, the announcement that it would run in-person camp this summer was a huge relief.
Both parents work full-time — now from home — and rely on the child care the camp provides.
“They are craving their friends,” Servio Medina said. “We implicitly trust what [the camp] does for our children.”
Like Medina, the Lahais feel the benefits of sending their children to camp outweigh the risks — especially as neither parent can work from home.
“We are praying that this thing will be over and that they will have their summer activities back,” Rebecca Lahai said. “They want mommy to be there with them or daddy to be there with them, but we have to work.”