Long Island Summer Camps Pivot for a COVID-19 Season, Campinar Panelists Say

Summer Camp – Comic book style word.
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While Gov. Cuomo has banned overnight camps for the summer, would-be campers have no fear — Long Island summer camps are still offering a plethora of both virtual and on-site options this summer that echo the traditional camp experience.

That’s according to the panelists in this week’s Campinar, a webinar hosted by Schnep’s Media, the parent company of the Long Island Press. The panel of camp professionals from across LI discussed this summer’s camp landscape.

For camps revolving around digital technology and gaming, going virtual may even add to the camp experience. This summer is no exception to a growing trend of technology-focused camps that teach kids how to code or design video games. 

Panelist and Hofstra University Continuing Education associate director Jessica Dease revealed that video game development and eSports, a form of competitive multiplayer gaming, were among the most popular choices for campers today because “it’s something out of the academic box.” In particular, the immersive nature of a virtual camp would allow for campers across a wide age range to “learn the technology and the coding behind [eSports], as well as compete with each other.”

“Being at a large university and having different offerings allow for many different individuals to be able to come together and connect with one another, whether it’s in a larger group or a smaller group,” said panelist Terence Ryan, director of Hofstra University Continuing Education.

Higher levels of collaboration can come without a university backing, however, and is one of the core benefits of an online experience, several of the panelists echoed. SummerTech, a camp based out of SUNY Purchase whose offerings include Python, 3D modeling, and web design, plans to join the digital nature of the camps’ content and their newly digital platform. According to founder Steven Fink, campers will be able to easily share their work with one another using the screenshare feature on Zoom, while the chatting app Discord will enable them to bond over various electives or social gatherings.

“Students are engaging in the material that they’re working on and better able to collaborate in a way that allows them to achieve a common goal,” Head of School Tiffany Belferder said of Fusion Academy, a program that emphasizes customized learning for middle and high school students. “It’s a group learning opportunity.” 

This summer, Fusion will offer both small-group online camps as well as personalized summer school for those whose learning has been adversely impacted by school closures.

Building a real, social community is one of the main functions of camp, the panelists agreed. Yet while Fink seeks to accomplish this via Discord events that turn “geek culture” into more social gatherings, Mark Transport of Crestwood Country Day Camp seeks to take this summer one step closer to normal by offering an in-person, onsite program in Melville.

“This virtual meeting here is the antithesis of what camp is about,” Transport joked, referencing the Zoom webinar. “Right now, all kids are doing is communicating on their phones, but camp is a place where we are really socially bringing kids together again.”

Coordinating an in-person day camp is no easy feat when strict health protocols are necessary to ensure the wellbeing of everyone involved, from staff to campers. Transport explained that some measures that will be taken include no bussing, electrostatic spray gun disinfection, cancelling rain days to limit amount of time spent indoors, requiring a COVID-19 test for each participant and staff member prior to the first day of camp, and small group activities as opposed to camp-wide gatherings. Kids will also not be required to wear masks on the 17-acre property, with Transport stressing the need to maintain participants’ mental health and retain an overall sense of normalcy.

“The way I look at it, this will be the most rewarding and important summer in my 26 years of operating camp,” he said.

Though this summer may not feature the traditional camp activities families and campers hoped for, 

“It’s not too late to think forward to 2021,” says Laurel Barrie of The Camp Connection, a free “summer camp matchmaking” service that connects families with the best option for their budgetary, geographic, religious, and personal preferences.

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