As it has for years, Charles County Public Schools (CCPS) held summer enrichment camps to keep academic skills sharp among students while introducing them to new activities or expanding on their love of others.
Earlier this year when the threat of spreading COVID-19 put a halt to in-person instruction, CCPS gifted education services staff — which coordinates the enrichment camp program — scrambled to figure out how to offer camps. Teachers had already submitted proposals, kids were already registering.
Organizers reached out to teachers asking if they could tailor their camps to be held virtually — many said they could. Later it was determined that some camps could be held in-person if safety guidelines were followed. Organizers again contacted teachers who were leading camps. If the camps could be reworked to be held in person with health and safety regulations in place, would they be willing to teach them?
Starting in the fourth week of a six-week season, some camps were held in person at Milton M. Somers Middle School. Camps like Summer Strings for middle school musicians, Getting Crafty with Literacy for kids in Grade 1 and 2, and Welcome to the World of Kindergarten for kindergarteners welcomed students into the building — 6 feet apart. Other camps, like Biomedical Scientist for middle schoolers and Punch and Paint for students in third to fifth grades, remained virtual.
Trisha Aguilera, a first-grade teacher at Mary B. Neal Elementary School, met with Grade 1 and 2 campers virtually in the Busy Bookworms camp. Aguilera made sure the lessons were interactive to keep kids engaged. “We hold up letters to answer multiple choice questions, we hold up our drawings for our favorite parts of each story and we have dancing “brain breaks” to “go noodle,” she said.
Despite not being physically together, Aguilera saw the students form a group. “They love to share their ideas,” she said. “I had one student say they ‘didn’t want to miss out.” So that’s why he had perfect attendance.”
With input from the CCPS office of school safety and security, and the office of safety and risk management, health and safety guidelines were laid out for staff and students participating in the in-person camps. Students and staff wore face masks, parents filled out a questionnaire about their child’s health (with teachers following up daily) and classrooms were set up to allow a 6-foot distance between work stations.
Teachers heading in-person camps said they have been impressed with the students’ behavior. Before going over to look at a craft a neighbor is working on, they remembered to pull on their face mask. They stretched out on L.O.L. Surprise Dolls and Spiderman beach towels, setting up a makeshift socially distant story circle on the Somers’ sidewalk.
“It’s been good,” Kelly Brickey, a third-grade teacher at Dr. Samuel A. Mudd Elementary School, said. She taught the Getting Crafty with Literacy camp that paired crafts with books. “It’s nice to see them interacting and that they are still interested in reading.”
Carol Bush and Sylvia Carmona, a Billingsley Elementary School kindergarten teacher and kindergarten instructional assistant, respectively, worked with young students for Welcome to the World of Kindergarten. Bush said the camp offers an experience that the kids won’t get at the start of this school year.
Ruby Lamar’s son, Isaiah, took part in the kindergarten camp. “I wanted him to get a bit of the experience,” she said, adding that she could go over his ABC’s and numbers with him, but school gives her son an opportunity to socialize with other children.
At camp, kindergarteners line up 6-feet apart — using a jump rope as a distance gauge. While it’s a new task in the age of COVID-19, it’s a skill they should learn. “Anytime a child goes to school, there are new procedures that teachers go through with them,” Ann Taylor, content specialist for Gifted and Differentiated Services, said. The procedures students are ones about the importance of social distancing, washing their hands and not sharing school supplies. “They’re learning the social skills that they need in this new world we’re in,” she said.