Taking the Risk: NYC Opening for Summer Camps

My brother and I joke that it was more fun to go to school than it was to stay home in the summers. Whenever we weren’t enrolled in camps, my mom had a full curriculum of Latin textbooks, math workbooks, and library-recommended summer reading lists planned for us. I was fortunate to grow up with a mother who was clued-in to the educational backslide that can happen during summer break. We always kept busy during the summertime.

This summer looks completely different for students and parents, alike. The work I’m doing at The Lower Eastside Girls Club (LEGC) reflects this major shift in summer programming.

Over the past week we have been working hard to pull together the COVID-19 protocol for LEGC. I delved into resources from other New York City businesses and restaurants, CDC summer camp guidelines, and YMCA child care practices to learn more about the safest ways to reopen the Girls Club. From cleaning and facilities work to symptom tracking and reporting, the leadership team had to think about every possible scenario that might arise during summer programming and come up with a plan. We created systematic protocols for entering the building for both Girls Club members and staff, purchased touchless water fountains and temperature scanners, and developed curriculum and schedules conducive to outdoor (and potentially virtual) engagement. Meanwhile, the research and recommendations change every minute. 

Though it isn’t completely clear what a COVID age summer camp will look like, I know that educational initiatives, like LEGC, are crucial at a time like this… 

In education the summer break backslide is called “summer learning loss.” Essentially, kids who are not academically engaged throughout the summers lose what they’ve learned during the school year. The Brookings Institution reports that “on average, students’ achievement scores decline over summer vacation by one month’s worth of school year learning.” Additionally, studies show that summer learning loss widens income-based reading achievement gaps. This difference is likely because “the flow of resources slows for students from disadvantaged backgrounds but not for students from advantaged backgrounds. Higher-income students tend to continue to have access to financial and human capital resources (such as parental education) over the summer, thereby facilitating learning.”

As you can imagine, educators aren’t just worried about summer learning loss this year. Curriculum plans took a major hit this past spring, with many students falling behind, even before summer vacation rolled around. Many parents stressed with healthcare crises, layoffs, and work-from-home schedules were unable to help their children with homework or were nervous to approach it without additional support. Also virtual learning wasn’t feasible for all students, especially if the family didn’t have reliable computer access or internet connection at home. The “COVID Slump,” as it’s named, presents itself as a looming issue in the fall.

So, summer camps are critical right now. Summer programming can bridge the gap between now and back-to-school season in the fall. Camps keep kids engaged during the current crisis, even if just to relieve stress during this time of high anxiety. Over the past four months of New York City’s shutdown, LEGC provided fresh produce, books, and arts and crafts materials to Girls Club members and families. They also came up with a plan to continue to work with members this summer, even if the building is shut down again. Re-opening has its risks, but students need accessible and affordable summer resources now more than ever.

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