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By Nicole Rosenthal

 

Following a successful 2020 season, Park Shore continues to excel as a leader in Summer Camp COVID safety for summer activities, sports, and education.

 

DIX HILLS, NY – When faced with reopening for summer 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic, summer day camps across the globe were met with a daunting and unprecedented challenge. From ever-changing state and national health guidance to limited PPE supply, offering a social, fun, and safe summer for children seemed like a nearly impossible task for overnight and day camps alike. In fact, in 2020, approximately 19.5 million children never had a chance to enjoy summer camp as scores of camps across the country canceled their seasons, according to the American Camp Association (ACA).

Nevertheless, during the pandemic which left a generation of children stuck indoors for months, Park Shore Country Day Camp in Dix Hills remains dedicated to providing an exciting and safe summer. The ACA-accredited camp – trusted by Long Island families for over 60 years – immediately took action in 2020, emboldened to take on the unique challenge of reopening with a safety-first mindset.

Camp Director Bob Budah reports that Park Shore had an extremely safe and successful 2020 season without signs of virus transmission or positive cases among campers. Bob attributes the highly successful season to his team’s dedication to four pillars: education, precaution, transparency, and resilience.

“By 2020, we had a 62-year reputation of being successful, and camp directors are resilient,” Bob said. “We planned as a team because we all worked so hard as a state, as a group of summer camps, and as a community. We were creative and we adapted. We were committed to opening because parents needed us and kids needed us, and we proved that through our resiliency. Keeping the camp safe and clean was our number one priority.”

In preparation for the unprecedented summer season, Park Shore’s team purchased large quantities of face masks, hand sanitizer, and face shields, all while staying updated with the latest information from New York State, the American Camp Association, Long Island Camps, and Private Schools (LICAPS) and the Center For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Camp staff completed various COVID-19 safety courses and designed a transparency protocol to ensure a smooth flow of communication to parents.

‘Above And Beyond’ In 2020

Park Shore Day Camp reopened on July 6, 2020, with just under 40% of their normal camper enrollment divided into cohorts of 15. Parents provided transportation to and from the Dix Hills campus, where temperatures were taken and daily health questionnaires were completed by all campers and staff on arrival. At lunchtime, each child’s temperature was taken again, with any temperature over 100 degrees Fahrenheit warranting a trip to an on-site isolation building for further investigation.

Under the supervision of Health Director Marilyn Byron, an EMT Critical Care with the Dix Hills Volunteer Fire Department trained in contact tracing, vaccinations, and pandemic safety, Park Shore meticulously followed both the 82-page safety guide released by the American Camp Association as well as national CDC directives.

Parents who weren’t comfortable sending their children back to camp in 2020 were able to roll over their tuition and were given the lowest tuition rate for 2021 or participated in Park Shore’s Covid-19 refund policy. 

“We went above and beyond,” Marilyn said. “You can meet the standard for the ACA, but I follow the CDC guidelines. We put the maximum in effect. I can’t imagine doing any more than what we did. The big challenge was last year: this year will be much easier to navigate.”

Before camp started, all children were required to check their temperature for 14 days before their first day of camp and are symptom-free with a temperature under 100 degrees Fahrenheit or, alternatively, a negative PCR test and seven days without symptoms. On a daily basis, once camp began, Park Shore utilized multiple entrance points and staggered arrival and dismissal times to minimize contact between children.

Camp counselors also had to follow Park Shore’s 14 day or 7-day screening protocols before their first day of camp and were also mandated to wear PPE for the duration of the camp day.  Specialists (professionals who oversee activities such as dance, arts, and rock climbing) maintained a six-foot distance from campers at all times in addition to wearing a face shield. “When staff engaged with children in any activity, they had to wear PPE. Even our lifeguards in the water had to wear shields. Nobody was allowed to be in the vicinity of a child without a mask. I think that was key in keeping all our campers safe,” said Director Dianne Vitucci.

To consistently sanitize high-touch surfaces around the 15-acre property, Park Shore purchased a special spray to apply to playgrounds, tables, seats, bathrooms, and sports equipment after each use. In addition, the camp onboarded extra maintenance workers to sanitize surfaces each hour. Every athletic group was also allotted its own set of equipment to eliminate common touch surfaces across cohorts. “No child ever came in close contact with anyone other than the group that they were in, from the time they left the car at arrival until the time they returned to their parents,” according to Bob. 

As indoor activities such as arts and crafts were moved outdoors in 2020, ideal weather was a crucial part of the camp’s success. The rainy day policy was adjusted, with three days of full-day rain warranting the closing of camp for everyone’s safety. Luckily, the weather remained on the side of campers for much of the season, allowing children to enjoy Park Shore’s exciting facilities such as; rock climbing, Skytrail, swimming, athletics, cultural arts, arts and crafts, and even camp traditions like Human Tic-Tac-Toe. Color War and many other Park Shore’s exciting special events with the highest safety standards in place.

“2020 was anything but normal, but campers didn’t feel that at Park Shore. It might not have been normal in the outside world, but the inside world of Park Shore was normal, as normal as it could be,” Dianne said.

“On an everyday basis, when the parents came to pick up their children, you could actually look at their faces, you could see them smiling when they hugged their child because they knew that’s another day that their child got to be a child rather than be cooped up in the house,” added Director Chuck Budah. 

A Confident Return In 2021

Looking ahead to 2021, many of the same safety precautions will be reinstated, such as staff face mask requirements, group cohorts, and temperature checks. Drawing from the experience gained in 2020, this summer will see dismissal and arrival times staggered more efficiently, aimed to decrease the time that children sit on the field waiting for their cohort to gather or for their guardian to arrive. Campers will also be required to follow the Park Shore 14 or 7-day pre-screening protocols before they arrive on their first day of camp. 

“I envision that camp will look very similar to last year,” Marilyn said. “We’ll be back into cohorts, wearing masks, practicing hand hygiene, counselors will have to wear PPE, plus lots of disinfection of equipment. With the challenges we faced in 2020, we were so successful in navigating that uncertain time. We know so much now moving forward, I have a feeling it’s going to be easier on us.”

The upcoming camp season will also see the return of Extreme STEAM Science Kids Camp (EESK), an immersive science program for children completing grades 1 through 5. In 2021, the engaging STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics) program will be conducted outdoors under a canopy, with children participating in stimulating classes in the morning before transitioning to afternoon activities with the same cohort.

2021 will also mark the return of the Super Senior, Explorer, and SuperTeen travel programs, in which senior campers completing grades 5 through 9 will get the chance to attend camp with their friends.  “At the present time, we’re working on a hybrid program where travelers will have exciting activities on the grounds, evening activities where they’ll have the camp all to themselves, and if allowed, we will be going on local day trips to areas that we can have all to ourselves,” Bob said. “If overnights are allowed, we’ll most likely travel to all-inclusive resorts where we have facilities all to ourselves. We will not be mixing with the general population. Masking, social distancing, hand washing, and sanitizing protocols will carry through.”

To Bob, the pandemic reopening process certainly wasn’t easy – but it was absolutely necessary to take every precaution to get children back to camp on the grounds for childrens’ social and physical well-being. In fact, getting children back to camp in 2020 was crucial for the mental health of many young campers, according to Mount Sinai neuroscientist and licensed clinical psychologist Heather Berland. 

“Being able to play and socialize with children their own age is key for emotional development. The most significant aspect of children’s play is that it allows them to try out new roles and master difficult feelings, including learning conflict resolution from situations that arise spontaneously during play,” Heather said. “Deprivation of socialization during these sensitive periods can precipitate or exacerbate mental health issues, including depression and anxiety.” 

“It is psychologically critical for children to go back to camp to get some sense of normalcy where they can socialize with their friends,” Bob added. “In a very uncertain world, I was overjoyed that we opened, followed the protocols, and we were extremely successful. That enabled all the children who came to camp to be normal children and enjoy their summer with us. We’re looking forward to a safe and exciting 2021 where children can be kids and have fun throughout their summer.”

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