Coronavirus

Major Changes Coming for Local Summer Programs

Activities will be limited to groups of 12 for children of essential workers

Although summer camps will be limited to small groups for the children of essential workers, many will move forward. PHOTO: SANTA CRUZ COUNTY

When Santa Cruz County Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel revised her coronavirus-related shelter-in-place order effective May 1, she relaxed restrictions on summer programs such as daycare and day camp, allowing families to begin planning activities for their kids after months of restrictions.

The announcement came with caveats: They may only serve children of essential employees, like disaster and health care workers. Also, the programs must be in stable groups of no more than 12 kids, led by stable groups of instructors. 

“Stable,” in this case, means that they must be the same members from start to finish.

In a message to the community, the county Parks, Open Spaces and Cultural Services Department said that it has made “major modifications” to its normal summer programming and that they have effectively been canceled. Santa Cruz County plans instead to offer “enrichment camps.” 

It is still unclear how the programs will look countywide once the summer gets rolling. County officials are deciding what is possible with smaller groups under shelter-in-place restrictions that will likely continue to be in place. Plans could change if state education officials follow through on potential plans to start the school year earlier in the summer.

“It’ll definitely be different than summer camp used to be,” says city of Santa Cruz Parks and Recreation Supervisor Rachel Kaufman, who is overseeing the rollout of this summer’s day camps at Harvey West. While she hopes this summer’s day camps have a familiar feel to them, this year’s version will have no all-camp lunches or campwide singalongs, for instance, in line with physical distancing requirements.

Andrew Townsend, camps director for Soquel-based Kennolyn Camps, says he and his colleagues are evaluating how to safely proceed this summer.

The city of Watsonville has canceled its aquatics program typically held at Watsonville High School, says Parks and Community Services Department Director Nick Calubaquib. But several more are in the works, including Camp Wow, which offers sports, arts-and-crafts and other activities. The city of Watsonville’s Police Activities League is also building its summer program.

Watsonville is additionally offering activities through its Virtual Recreation Center, which provides programs such as online cooking classes, education sessions and workouts. 

Santa Cruz County Recreation Coordinator Jessica Beebe says the county’s parks department is following the mandates of state officials as they create a framework for which businesses and services can open and when they can resume. “We are working on it feverishly and sorting through the mandates as they are fluctuating,” she says.

Currently, the county is planning to offer nine-week sessions, with programs such as science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics (STEAM), Junior Rangers and nature exploration. It will also offer a pared-down version of the popular Junior Lifeguards program, with sessions held exclusively at a pool. 

“We want to provide the best of what we offer in any given summer,” Beebe says. 

The county is also looking for volunteers who can help lead the sessions and for facilities such as pools, Beebe says, adding that the more that can be secured of both, the more programs that can be offered.

She says that, if the sessions are staggered, the county can potentially serve as many as 288 young people and possibly more. 

“We’re trying to prepare for a large number of people, but at this point, we really don’t know what the need will be,” she says. 

Michelle Cheney, Executive Director of Youth N.O.W., says that the organization plans to offer two sessions–one for young people entering middle school and another for those entering high school.

Those are important, she says, after all schools closed under coronavirus restrictions. 

“The difference is more emphasis on academic bridgework to facilitate their transition to the next year,” she says. “Because they are so behind—they’ve lost out on so much schooling.”

In addition to helping to bolster their academic work, the sessions will include nature exploration and other supper-inspired programs, Cheney says. 

“Our kids were looking forward to summer,” she says. “We just really want to bring something out for them.”

Additional reporting by Jacob Pierce.

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