Wednesday, July 8, 2020
Pandemic Summer Camp Offers Semblance of Normalcy Amidst Caution
A young cyclist rides out of the BCRD yard to head off to an adventure with her pod.
Thursday, June 11, 2020


Hailey resident Megan McCann knows there’s some risk to enrolling her 7-year-old daughter in summer camp this year. But it’s a risk she’s willing to assume.

“My daughter is very social so take that aspect of life away from her and it was a hard quarantine,” she said. “She was SO happy to start the BCRD’s summer camp this week where she could play with other kids.”

Summer camp is not just a ritual for many children—it’s a lifeline for working parents who need child care when school’s out. And this year it’s providing a sense of normalcy for youngsters who have been starved for social interaction since the coronavirus pandemic shut down school and other activities in mid-March.

Each group has its own puzzles to keep other campers from touching the pieces.

The Blaine County Recreation District is trying to make its day camp at Hailey’s Community Campus as safe as possible.

Parents drop off their first-through sixth-graders at the curb between 8 and 9:30 every morning, following a one-way traffic pattern behind the Community Campus.

Counselors immediately screen the child’s health and check his or her temperature, before entreating the camper to wash his hands and don a face mask--one of 325 free masks that Flourish Foundation’s MasquerAID mask making endeavor provided to campers and counselors.

Rather than mingle with all the children in the day camp, each child is assigned to one of seven pods, or groups, which that child stays with throughout the week. The pods boast between eight and 10 children and two counselors each. That way, if a child does become sick, only a few children will be exposed, rather than the entire camp.

Preliminary studies of children attending schools abroad indicate that children seem less capable of spreading the virus than previously thought. But experts caution it’s too early to make conclusive statements.

The BCRD even purchased enough basketballs, art supplies, board games, puzzles and other props to ensure that each pod has its own.

“We have a 17-page COVID document just for summer camp,” said Jenna Vagias, the BCRD’s recreation director. “I have never worked so hard in my life researching guidelines and coming up with alternative plans. It was a heavy lift to get camp off the ground but it was worth it.”

COVID plans have one to four counselors per child, rather than the one-to-10 ratio in past camps, which boasted as many as 90 campers.

“We added 30 percent more staff for 30 percent fewer campers to offer a buffer against illness. If Brittany, for instance, has a headache, we don’t want Brittany to work that day,” Vagias said.

A counselor shows campers how he wants them to ride in and out of the cones.

Outside activities, such as a bike ride to use the playground equipment at Hailey Elementary or a walk along the Toe of the Hill Trail, are pushed.

If the morning’s chilly, the campers can play a game of freeze dance or climb on the treehouse in the HUB.

“The Community Campus is closed to the public the entire summer because it’s a Blaine County School District building. But the College of Southern Idaho ha generously allowed the summer camp to use some of its classrooms so each pod can have its own room,” said Vagias. “And we disinfect the restroom every time a pod uses it—this place has never been so clean.”

On Wednesday Camp Director Kellee Bondell helped one young lady get the handle of riding a bicycle as  other campers practiced riding around a circle of cones and weaving through other cones set up like a slalom course.

Youngsters are not required to wear masks outside.

“The reason we’re doing this is so we can build muscle memory as we build skills,” he told the children. “And, when you’re riding a bike, look where you want to go.”

Some campers are signed up for the entire summer; others, for a week. The BCRD is not taking drop-ins this year, as in the past. But campers can sign up for the next week, provided they register by 9 a.m. the Friday before at

“This year’s summer camp is definitely different from past camps, but it’s fun,” said Counselor Emma Flolo, a student at University of Idaho. “It’s a lot easier to get to know the kids since we’re responsible for the same group every day. And each pod can do what interests them, rather than going along with what the entire camp is doing.”

Bondell says feedback from both parents and youngsters has been overwhelmingly positive.

“I’m having my best day ever,” said one young camper, so happy to be playing with others.

“I’m shocked at how well the kids have transitioned back in,” Blondell added. “They’re having no problem with having all these questions about their health asked every day or with wearing masks. We’re just ecstatic to be able to provide a service.”



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