CHARLOTTE – When COVID-19 hit last March, most local businesses had already begun registration for the upcoming summer. As we headed toward summer 2020, more businesses were allowed to reopen with practices in place to keep patrons safe. Although schools had been out of session for three months, it began to look like a modified version of camp would be possible in the summer.
“Planning for 2020 Summer Camps was challenging, especially when everything shut down in March, but we dug our heels in and were determined to make it happen,” says Kristin Mitchell, owner of Waxhaw-based Art Box. “We had to remain flexible with the camp dates we offered because of the changing school calendar. We had to move quickly to respond to our parents’ needs to feel comfortable sending their kids to camp with us. And we worked extra hard to offer an especially fun and happy camp environment to help counter the stress of ever-changing circumstances in 2020.”
To keep students and staff safe, Art Box offered reduced class sizes, hand sanitizing stations in each room, and curbside check-in with temperature scanning. “We are lucky that our location inside Eight Legs Gallery offered the space to make these modifications in 2020,” says Mitchell. “We are located inside a house with many rooms enabling us to have multiple classrooms with reduced capacity. Additionally, we have a large paved parking lot at the back of the studio, which made curbside drop off and pick up easy and accessible for parents! Lastly, we have a wonderful, covered, outdoor Pottery Pavilion where our Pottery Wheel Throwing Camp takes place. Being outdoors in the fresh air was appealing to parents and kids alike!”
After being forced to cancel their June camps, Matthews Playhouse was excited to make their July and August camps happen with similar modifications. “We limited camp numbers to follow the Governor’s restrictions,” says Founder and Artistic Director June Bayless. “We had no more than 10 in a group, and they stayed together throughout the camp. We videotaped all camp shows, and parents and siblings were not allowed in the building. We did temperature checks and questions outside in the carpool line.”
There were some struggles Matthews Playhouse couldn’t overcome last summer, namely figuring out where and how students enrolled in full-day camps would be able to eat lunch in a safe way. Last summer, they decided to eliminate full-day camps and instead offer 2-week half-day camps. “I think we had about 200 in camp after all was said and done, and processed hundreds of refunds and credits,” says Bayless. “We didn’t do any virtual camps, but we did do virtual productions with young people.”
“Financially, it has been tough for us, as it has for all theatre and performing nonprofits,” admits Bayless. “We saw a significant reduction in income for the summer and for the year. All of these rules required more staff to facilitate and clean, while at the same time trying to keep a minimal amount of people in the building to keep risk down.”
Summer camps last year at Charlotte Latin School marked the first time children had been on campus since the school closed the campus to students last March. The independent school located on Providence Road made both big and small modifications to allow camps to happen in July of 2020. These modifications included eliminating many of their sports-based camps, specifically contact and indoor sports, and eliminating afternoon camps, which would require additional screening and mixing of cohorts. All indoor campers were required to wear face masks; outdoor campers were required to mask up to enter buildings for bathroom breaks or in case of rain. Camps were limited to only ten students.
“Obviously we had screening stations,” says Summer Camps Director Laura Walker. “We diversified our carpool drop-offs so we didn’t have everybody coming in at one camp drop off, which really helped. That was really successful for us. We also had a spot to hold campers if their temperature was a little higher than normal, just to do a recheck since it is summer!”
Ultimately, Walker considers Latin’s 2020 summer camps not only a huge success but an important pilot program for the 2020-2021 school year. “I think we did a really good job last year,” says Walker. “We did not have one positive COVID case at camp!” Walker believes the success of summer camps was an important factor in terms of moving forward with a plan for in-person instruction in the fall. “We did it with camp, with a staff of the high school and college kids, right?” she asks. “Imagine what a full staff of fully trained and prepared adults are going to be able to do.”
With more knowledge under their belts and a vaccine is only the beginning stages of its distribution, summer camp purveyors plan to continue many of the modifications that made camps successful in 2020 this summer. “We were successful in 2020 with our COVID-19 modifications and plan to do the same thing this year,” says Mitchell. “We’ll scan temperatures and give hand sanitizer at our curbside check-in. Once in the classroom, we’ll review healthy camper practices, have socially distant seating and hand sanitizing stations in each room. Art is an inherently independent activity, and our summer camps offer a great way for kids to be creative in a fun environment.”
In consideration of patrons’ ever-changing circumstances, Art Box will be offering a refundable deposit this year. Anyone who cancels 14 days prior to camp will receive a full refund of their deposit. They’ll also once again be offering “Pottery To Go” kits for those who prefer an at-home experience. These kits can be ordered online and picked up curbside for a contact-free experience.
This summer, Matthews Playhouse will continue to offer the same drama, art, music, and dance camps their patrons have loved in past summers, like Harry Potter, Hamilton, Sound of Music, Curious George, and Frozen. “We will limit our attendance as per the Governor’s orders (10 to a group inside),” says Bayless. “If and when that changes, we will adapt appropriately. We are set to pivot as needed by state law and conditions in our area. We will have half-day camps and full-day camps as we have in the past. We will record shows on Friday for parents. We are looking at a way to perform safely outside if it is appropriate. Masks will continue to be worn, and we’ll practice social distancing. We strive to make this a safe environment for your child to experience and enjoy the performing arts.”
Fueled by a successful four months of daily in-person instruction for elementary students in the fall, Charlotte Latin will maintain many of the safety measures enacted last summer while expanding their camp offerings. They plan to add a third drop off point to expedite the arrival and add back in afternoon camps and popular third-party offerings like Children’s Theater of Charlotte and Nike Tennis.
“We are going to increase the number because we have proven through the school year to be able to handle more than 10 in a classroom,” says Walker, who knows the current school year has served as an example in more ways than one. “When we thought about adding the afternoon back in, we took middle school as an example: the number of transitions that kids have in one day for the camp was way less than an average middle schooler has in a day.”
Other things Walker believes they’ll keep for good. “We love having carpool at the Hawk!” says Walker of last year’s drop off arrangement in front of the Student Activities Center. “It makes it so much better for traffic on Providence Road, it makes it easier for parents. It makes it easier for campers to get to and from carpool, and it’s not so far away from the hub of where we keep most of our campers in the middle school and in the gyms and in the SAC building.”
Registration for Fired Arts + Pottery summer camps is currently open on Art Box’s website: https://www.artboxceramics.com/summer-camps. “I encourage parents to sign up early as we have a limited number of spots available,” says Mitchell, “and this year we made it even easier to sign up early by offering a refundable deposit!”
Matthews Playhouse plans to post their summer camp offerings on February 1 (https://www.matthewsplayhouse.com/). “We offer a discount for early bird sign-ups,” says Bayless. “Camps should fill up quickly this year due to the limited number of spaces, so we encourage early sign-ups.”
Registration for Charlotte Latin’s wide variety of summer camps is currently open on their web site: https://charlottelatinsummer.com/. They offer an early bird discount through January 29. Summer camps are open to anyone, not just Charlotte Latin students.