After completing an abbreviated summer camp with no coronavirus cases, Rolling River Day Camp Executive Director Marissa Goodman Allaben said she believed the facility set an example for what a safe transition back to school could be like.
“It was really an incredible success story for this summer,” she said. “We had a very limited amount of time to reimagine what camp was going to look like this summer. We only had about four to six weeks to do that, and to be able to change a lot of our procedures and still provide a traditional camp experience with no Covid cases is a great accomplishment, and we’re really proud of that.”
The camp ran from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays from July 13 to Aug. 21, and the number of campers was reduced from the usual 600 to 300 to adhere to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the New York State Department of Health. The smaller number of campers enabled the staff and administration to limit the size of each group, and campers were not allowed to change groups.
Staff members wore masks throughout the summer, and there were additional hand-washing and sanitizing stations and breaks. At the same time, there were no buses, arrival and dismissal times were staggered, and many activities usually held indoors, such as arts and crafts, were hosted outside. Those activities, the administration said, can continue outdoors in future years.
For Lisa Keith, whose son Tyler, 6, attended the camp, the experience helped her feel more comfortable sending him back to school this fall as he enters first grade at the Franklin Early Childhood Center in Hewlett.
“It’s like tearing off a band-aid, and once we did that, I felt less nervous about going back to school,” she said. “ . . . I thought they did a phenomenal job, and I was very confident about his health and safety. It was a bit of normalcy in an otherwise very difficult year.”
Lyndsey Benson, of Oceanside, said she felt uneasy about sending her son Benjamin, 3, to camp until she listened in on Zoom as the administration outlined its plans and safety protocols.
“He just loved it,” she said. “He would wake up at 6 a.m. excited for camp. He had the time of his life.”
Goodman Allaben said the camp received more thank-you letters from parents and students this summer than ever before. While there was some anxiety about opening camp, Goodman Allaben said, the administration received a great deal of guidance from the American and Long Island camp associations.
Before coming to camp, staff members and campers had to produce a negative coronavirus test, and then their temperatures were taken every morning before entering the camp. If campers or staffers showed Covid-19 symptoms, they had to be tested again before returning
“I think that summer camps as a whole on all of Long Island or anywhere in the country for the most part can definitely be used as a model for school and youth recreational activities,” Goodman Allaben said. “Overall, camps were extremely successful this summer with the measures that we utilize. I think if they follow similar protocols, they can still give kids an opportunity to play and learn in a way that’s safe.”
Goodman Allaben added that she had The Learning Academy in Rockville Centre observe their pick-up and drop-off protocols this month, and Oceanside School District officials also contacted her for advice.
With the success of local camps, there is hope that schools can also return safely as they prepare for a hybrid model of learning. Lynbrook Superintendent of Schools Dr. Melissa Burak said last month that the health and safety of students and staff is paramount as they return.
“Our school district’s primary goal is to support our students academically, socially, emotionally and, most importantly, to do so in a safe manner,” she wrote in a letter to district parents.
In a letter to residents, East Rockaway Superintendent Lisa Ruiz also spoke about the importance of health and safety.
“I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the over 100 administrators, faculty, staff and parents who provided input in the development of our plan,” Ruiz said. “We are creating something completely new in order to address the extraordinary situation the pandemic presents. Your support and ongoing two-way communication will help to ensure that our re-entry to school is safe and effective for everyone in our school community. I thank you for your patience and cooperation as we navigate these unprecedented circumstances.”