Addressing academic and social-emotional learning loss this summer

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I wear three hats: I am a mother. I am the chief marketing officer for the American Camp Association (ACA), a national nonprofit serving the 15,000 summer camps in the U.S., which normally serve 26 million campers each year. Finally, I am an elected trustee serving on the Rockford Public Schools Board of Education in Michigan. Together these hats inform how I think about the nature of how we will support academic and social-emotional learning recovery this summer.

Summer is just around the corner, with clear blue skies, the smell of freshly cut grass and the opportunity to set our kids up for academic success this fall. Many children have struggled academically this year. Unfortunately, some students are no longer on track to graduate on time because they have fallen deeply behind. If you are a parent whose child is facing serious obstacles from a year of learning disruptions brought on by COVID-19, today is the day to reach out to your child’s teachers and work with your school district to determine what opportunities are available to you this summer to address this challenging reality.

Here in Rockford, we’re working hard to provide our families with opportunities to keep kids engaged in overcoming this year’s academic disruptions. For our DK-8 learners we’ll be offering more than 40 different book club options, over 30 online math tutoring groups and in-person intensive small-group targeted math and reading instruction. To add whimsey and fun to summer learning, we’re unveiling the Rockford Book Bus, bringing a mobile library of reading adventures to neighborhoods, cul-de-sacs and playgrounds across Rockford in a Magic School Bus-inspired experience. For 9-12-grade learners it’s about opportunities for academic credit recovery, SAT prep, and innovative electives to keep teens on track to graduate.

For parents of children who are on target academically, this summer should be all about summer camp. Camps are getting ready for the season by training and vaccinating staff while actively opening enrollment for this summer. These programs will provide campers with exceptional opportunities to develop and practice social-emotional learning skills. The ACA has decades of camp research proving that the skills learned at camp support academic performance and are at the core of college and career readiness. Our kids need camp experiences this summer to set them up for success this fall. After a long, difficult and often isolating year for our kids, this summer should be about time away from technology whenever possible mixed with a solid dose of sunshine.

Here are three key things I look for when choosing a camp for my child:

An American Camp Association accredited camp. ACA is the only independent national accrediting body for the organized camp experience, and accreditation provides public evidence of a camp’s voluntary commitment to continuous improvement in health, safety and risk management. If your camp is not currently accredited, make sure to ask why. A camp could be in the process of becoming an ACA-accredited camp and eager to share their accreditation journey with parents. While accreditation is not required to run a camp in the state of Michigan, as a parent, I want to know that my camp has gone above and beyond to provide my child with a safe, high-quality camp experience.

A camp following CDC guidance and using ACA’s Field Guide for operating during the pandemic. Ask to see a camp’s plan for mitigating the spread of COVID-19 and implementation of ACA’s Field Guide in a camp’s policies, practices and procedures this summer.

The right fit. Every child is different, and there is a camp for just about every interest and need. Use ACA’s Find-A-Camp Tool (find.acacamps.org) to find the camp best suited for you and your child. But don’t wait; parent demand is really high this year, so start the enrollment process now to ensure your child has a great experience at camp this summer.

When I talk to some of the camp directors from the more than 400 day and overnight camps in Michigan about last summer, they know what it looks like to run safe programs while mitigating risk. Jake Jacobs, executive director of Camp Henry, just north of Rockford, told me, “When we served kids last summer, it was clear that children were craving and needing a camp experience more than ever. With so many disruptions to their routines and so many options not available to kids, the opportunity to come to camp was cherished and provided a slice of normalcy that was incredibly valuable and important for campers and families.”

Looking ahead to this summer, Karin Denman the camp director at YMCA Camp Manitou-Lin, said, “In these first few months of 2021, parents keep telling me how excited their campers are to return to camp! We’re following the guidelines of the CDC, our local health department and the American Camp Association’s Field Guide. We will have increased cleaning procedures, perform daily health checks, schedule small cohort activities and serve a reduced capacity overall. However, with fewer possible campers in light of this reduced capacity, we are encouraging parents and guardians to reserve their camper’s spot now.”

As someone who sees the lasting benefits of camp firsthand every day, I can tell you it’s worth taking the initiative now to get your child enrolled in camp this summer. Dottie Myers-Hill, camp director at Van Buren Youth Camp, recently shared with me, “At VBYC we are so excited and ready to host a more traditional overnight summer camp in 2021. We ran a day camp in 2020, and it taught us how to ‘do camp’ safely during the pandemic. Children can adapt and play, make friends and engage in nature while wearing masks and social distancing. Camper enrollment is up for summer 2021, our percentage of new campers is up, and our imaginations are working nonstop to create a memorable and meaningful summer for all.”

This summer, I believe we should be providing our children with the opportunities they need to go back to school and thrive in the classroom this fall. Consider the options available through your school district and consider the opportunity that is summer camp. Your kids will thank you.

Kelley Freridge is the chief marketing officer for the American Camp Association and an elected trustee serving on the Rockford Public Schools Board of Education.

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