Students at Interlochen Arts Academy canoe on one of the lakes on the school property. Summer camp offerings at Interlochen Arts Academy will follow protocols developed during the 2020-21 school year.

Students at Interlochen Arts Academy canoe on one of the lakes on the school property. Summer camp offerings at Interlochen Arts Academy will follow protocols developed during the 2020-21 school year.

Photo provided by Interlochen Center for the Arts

Summer camp is back

Socialization opportunities more important than ever, organizers say

By: Kristyne E. Demske | Metro | Published March 24, 2021

 Interlochen Arts Camp will still offer concerts, plays, swimming, campfires and more during in-person camp, with reduced capacity during the  summer of 2021.

Interlochen Arts Camp will still offer concerts, plays, swimming, campfires and more during in-person camp, with reduced capacity during the summer of 2021.

Photo provided by Interlochen Center for the Arts


METRO DETROIT — New friends, crafts, activities and a way to while away the summer are all traditional tenets of summer camp, but after a year that’s been anything but normal, will those traditions survive?

Yes, say camp organizers.

“Camp is a place where we specialize in bringing people together,” said Weston Outlaw, the director of special and summer programs at Cranbrook Educational Community in Bloomfield Hills. “Although we may be distanced and masked, we’ll still do all the great things we do.”

Unlike 2020, when many summer camps were closed, organizers of sports, day and overnight camps say summer camp is on for 2021, with COVID-19 safety protocols in place.

Outlaw said some incoming campers have not been able to attend school in person at all during the 2020-21 school year, and their parents are looking for ways for their children to get socialization in a safe environment.

“Camp has always been a place for kids to enhance their social skills, make new friends and be around role model counselors,” Outlaw said. “The pandemic is really enhancing that for this particular summer.”

The pandemic and the resulting shutdowns and restrictions have shown the importance of relationships with peers and adult role models, he said, which is why they want to “shine a light on camp and say, this is really the place where kids need to be this summer.”

Camille Colatosti, the provost of Interlochen Center for the Arts in Interlochen, Michigan, said that even though they had to move all summer camp programs online in 2020, they still had 1,400 participants in camps across their seven arts majors and three age groups.

“The experience of creating Interlochen Online over the summer led us to continue to have online offerings, in addition to our campus offerings, all year long,” she said.

Interlochen offers camps for children in grades three-six, middle school and high school in arts programs that include music, theater, dance, interdisciplinary arts, creative writing, visual arts, film and new media.

For summer 2021, Interlochen is offering two three-week sessions of Interlochen Online, plus seven weeks of reduced capacity Interlochen Arts Camp on campus, divided into two-, four- and three-week sessions.

“The pandemic motivated us to do something really quickly that might otherwise have taken us a long time to figure out. We learned that we could offer very rich arts instruction through an online environment,” Colatosti said.

Interlochen has 550 year-round students who attend its Interlochen Arts Academy. Colatosti said successfully navigating the school year without outbreaks helped them develop protocols to use for summer camp. Interlochen is reducing capacity for in-person camp this year from its typical 1,500 students to just 800.

“We have 1,200 acres, and during the summer, we have lots and lots of cabins and lots of ways to spread out,” she said. “We’ll still have the Interlochen magic and lots and lots of fun.”

COVID-19 protocols — including distancing, mask-wearing, testing and cleaning, along with closing the campus to parents and the public — are just some of the strategies Interlochen will use to make camp safe for students this year, along with hosting as many classes and rehearsals as possible in outdoor amphitheaters and open-air spaces. There will still be concerts, plays, swimming, campfires and the chance to participate in the musical or the ballet recital, but these events and opportunities will take place on a closed campus created by testing students three times over the first few days and encouraging extra distancing until three negative tests are achieved.

“We’ve all learned that we can create something like a normal life with different protocols in place,” she said, adding that they are working to get as many summer camp staff vaccinated as possible.

“We’re very confident that campers will continue to experience the joy of Interlochen Arts Camp, the connections with other campers and teachers, the breakthroughs they always experienced at Interlochen.”

At Cranbrook Educational Community, summer day camps won’t look much different than in 2019.

“We’re offering all the same programs that we did, and really, not any capacity limits or restrictions,” Outlaw said. “That capacity is less than what the school brings in during the school year, and they’ve had a great, successful school year of all the more than 1,600 students,” spread across preschool through 12th grade, including day and boarding school students. “We feel that the school has been very successful this year, and so we are going to be following very similar safety protocols.”

The American Camp Association has provided its accredited camps, of which Cranbrook is one, with a “field guide” for offering camp during COVID-19, spelling out protocols for ventilation and recommendations for food service and transportation to keep campers as safe as possible.

Activities like swimming might be adjusted as state mandates regarding pool capacity continue to vary. Lunch will be single serve, and there will be distancing and mask requirements, but Outlaw said enrollment in the camps offered at Cranbrook is strong, and they believe camp will be a success this summer.

Other camp providers say they’re also confident they’ll be able to offer opportunities for camp this summer.

Brian Goul, the interim recreation director for the city of Troy, said the city will be offering day camps in 2021 following current state guidelines. The city typically offers camp to groups of 5- to 7-year-olds and 7- to 12-year-olds in subjects including STEM, sports and music, as well as “safety town” for incoming kindergartners.

What Goul doesn’t know yet is if they will be able to take campers on field trips and how many campers they can accommodate.

“The biggest challenge is how things are continuously changing,” he said. “It’s hard to come up with the guidelines when they seem to change every week.”

Hiring enough staff will also be a challenge, he said.

“Since we didn’t have camps last year, everybody left,” he said.

Juliart Dance Studio in Troy offers three-hour day camps for younger students, as well as weekly summer dance classes for older students.

“I feel like we’ve been very fortunate, and we’ve been successful in running all of our classes for our regular dance year,” said Kellie Lopiccola, of Juliart Dance Studio.

The studio has offered classes both in person and online, but a majority of students are coming for in-person instruction, she said.

Dance classes are already set up for social distancing, she said.

“Fortunately, for us ... how we structure our dance classes — there’s not a lot of touching,” she said. “With the space that we have ... our studios are fairly large, so our kids are kind of used to having their space because they have to have it to move to begin with.”

Nevertheless, Lopiccola said, they will be keeping class sizes small to ensure social distancing, and they require masks.

“The biggest challenge that we have had, and I foresee this continuing (is) ... to cut down on the number of people in the studio, we have asked parents not to bring their child in,” she said. “We’re missing the interaction with the parents we would normally have.

“Hopefully, some of this will ease up as the summer months approach with more people getting vaccinated.”

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